Paul English: On The Road with Willie Nelson
It’s difficult to write about Paul English without mentioning Willie Nelson. Paul says that Willie is his “favorite subject.” But, there’s something admirable about long relationships. For three decades the team of Nelson and English has been on the high and low sides of country and pop music. No drummer can play Willie Nelson’s music better than Paul English because Paul’s drumming is a great part of Willie’s music. You can hear the empathy, the craziness and the love.
SF: You’ve been playing with Willie Nelson for a long time. Maybe you could go back and talk a bit about how you got started playing drums.
PE: Playing the drums was really an accident. My family were musicians. My older brother had me going to music school before I was out of grammar school. I was taking trumpet lessons. I played trumpet in church, junior high school and in the high school bands. Then, after I got out of school I set up a leather shop. Willie was a disc jockey at the time. 1954. My brother called me on the phone and wanted me to come up to the radio station. They were doing a live 30 minute thing to help promote jobs for their band. Back then, musicians were really having a hard time. So, they called and wanted me to play a little snare drum with the brushes. That was my debut on drums! They couldn’t pay me anything, but since I had my own shop I could take off. Most other drummers who had to have a separate job could not take off. My job was ideal. I could take off anytime I wanted.
Up until that time, I’d never played drums before in my life! I just came in and all I did was play the snare drum. Then, after about a week somebody dug up a bass drum, and pretty soon they had almost a little set. I had a hi-hat, snare, bass drum, and one cymbal. I didn’t know what to do with a pair of sticks at that time! But, after about six weeks, the band got a job and they all asked Willie, “Well, who do you want to get as a drummer?” And good ol’ Willie said, “Well, I think we ought to use Paul. He’s been working six weeks for nothing!” By then, I was starting to enjoy it.
SF: Could you read music?
PE: Well, I did know about music. I took music and theory. I can’t sight read drum music, but I know how to read it. I can sight read trumpet music because I had to transpose that during church. The trumpet’s a B flat instrument and church music is all written in C major. So, I had to learn how to transpose in church and play the other keys in school. At any rate, I went to work, and Willie would start the count off and that’s how it would go! Everywhere we went we started out making $8.00 a night. Three nights a week. That was pretty good pay, really. That was about the highest they paid.
SF: Were you doing any road tours at that time?
PE: Oh no. Nobody could think about that at the time. Even Roger Miller at that time was living in the back of his car playing about five miles outside of Fort Worth. No one was making any great money at that particular time.
SF: Was this around the time you were playing those clubs where they used to stretch chickenwire across the bandstand so you wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles?
PE: Yeah. There were actually two of those places. I’ve worked in some pretty hardcore clubs. One place was called The County Dump. It was next door to the county dump! And somewhere else over on the Northside, called The Bloody Bucket or The Basement. Whichever! We worked there for awhile.
SF: I wanted to ask about a stigma that seems to get attached to country drummers. That because they’re not “busy” players you often hear that it requires little or no skill to play country western drums.
PE: That depends on what they’re playing! Music is music. Working with Willie is a lot different than working with somebody else. Without people knowing it, maybe, we play jazz, pop, and we play some hardcore country. Musicians know it! I like to go from a funky 4 beat into a good country 2/4 in the same song. It gives it a good release, a good feel. Also, I like to interpret the song. What does the song say? The only thing I dislike about acid rock is that it only has one level and that’s “high.” I think music should have lows and valleys and sometimes no drums at all!
Louie Bellson was the only drummer I ever talked to when I was younger. And he said, “It’s not what you play—it’s what you don’t play.” I’ve found that to be my inspiration, really. I like to build up to something loud, and just leave out that one beat. Then, maybe come back to a soft shuffle. See, I play with mallets, brushes, sticks, and I play with wooden brushes that nobody has ever heard of because I made ’em!
SF: What are wooden brushes?
PE: You take some little bitty dowels. Wooden dowels. Take about 15 or 20 and cut them off the length of the stick and glue them all together in a circle. Wrap some tape around them and file the ends off. They’re only about a quarter inch in diameter. Then you have your set of wooden brushes! I used them on “On the Road Again,” ’cause I’m playing 16th notes with a syncopated accent. I also like to play bells. I like to play bells in between the notes. I like to accent with the sock cymbal rather than the bass. Just an open sock. I haven’t seen anybody else do it, really. I got to doing that because when I first started playing with Willie we played with brushes and one stick most of the time. I didn’t have a stick in my right hand to accent, so I would just crash the sock cymbal and catch it loose, not quite tight at the top. And I crash it with my left foot. Now, after 15 years of working with this style, I can crash it on a 16th, just before the beat. Ka-choom! And then just bring it down to a nothing. Ba-doomp.
I like things like that. I use two rhythm patterns on “On the Road Again.” I’m playing ah 1, ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, still with a four beat with the wooden brushes. Then it will go into the instrumental part. I’m trying to imagine the bus swaying back and forth while I’m playing and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4. Accenting the and on 1 and then 3 and 4. When I play ah I , ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, the accent is on 2 and 4.
The wooden brushes give a tremendous effect. A lot of times on outdoor gigs where you should use brushes, like on “Stardust,” if it’s pretty noisy I’ll use the wooden brushes. Sometimes, I’ll start out with the wire brushes, switch to wooden brushes and then go to the sticks in the middle for the instrumental part. And then go back to the wire brushes again.
SF: Were you playing the old standards like “Stardust” back in 1954?
PE: We were doing some of that. We were also doing “Perdido.” But, back
then songs like “Sixteen Tons” were the style. That was really hot. Lefty Frizzel was about the hottest thing going then. A musician had to be really diversified to play an old joint, but you didn’t have to be good! So, in one respect I came up lucky because now you have to be good and diversified also! At that time, you didn’t really have to be good because it didn’t pay any money and you were liable to show up for work and the place would be locked up. And that was no big deal either.
SF: Back then, on an average night, what songs would you most likely have to play?
PE: You had to do whatever was popular at that time. We did everything. Elvis, Dean Martin, Lefty Frizzel. My cousin, brother and myself organized a band and we did go on the road with that band. This was 1956. Willie at this time had moved to Waco, just before he moved to Nashville. So, we organized a band and we did what was sort of like Elvis rock.
SF: Rockabilly material?
PE: Well, that’s what they call it now. Back then, everybody called it rock. We called ourselves Rock & Roll Cowboys. And then we had a show called The Grand Old Uproar and that lasted about 45 minutes. Before that we’d do songs by Willie, Elvis, Nat King Cole. The good dance stuff. That’s what they wanted. The Grand Old Uproar was a type of a show. My cousin would do imitations— change hats, you know. And he had different names for everybody: Ernest Bucket, Lefty Frizzle, and he’d do their songs. He’d imitate them. I’ll tell you, if we worked as hard now with as much talent as we have now as we did back then, we’d be dynamic!
In Kansas City the other night, we were doing “On the Road Again” and 18,000 people all lit matches at the same time. It was like they turned all the lights on! Willie was really emotional. This is tears to my eyes. I looked over and Willie was wipin’ a tear out of one eye, trying to hide it, and then he got the other eye. I saw him and I remembered back when he and I were driving along in this old station wagon, pulling a trailer. We were driving and one tire had a blow out. And I just remembered that and thought, ‘Boy, this is sure a long way from that blow out.’ But, it was really living back then. For me it was.
SF: You’ve been with Willie about 26 years now, right?
PE: Yes. I haven’t been with him constantly, but we’ve been in constant contact.
SF: When did Willie decide to make it with his own material?
PE: He put the band together in ’66. We never tried to buck the establishment or anything like that. This is when Willie was recording for RCA. What happened was, we would go in to record and cut a voice track, and it would be released with 37 pieces! It would be a fantastic arrangement but it wasn’t what we were selling. We couldn’t match that on stage. We were drawing a pretty good crowd, but our record was only selling about 20,000 a year. Will does that a day on each album now. All we wanted to know was, “Can we go in and produce? Can we go in and cut our stuff?” Because at our shows people would come out and tell us, “We like to hear you, but we don’t like your records.” So, we just wanted to go in and see if we could make records. It wasn’t like we were trying to make it big or anything. We never even dreamed of anything like that. We always thought we were a success as long as we could make a living!
So, Willie said, “The hell with it.” One time they wouldn’t even release a record so Willie said, “Well, we’ll just move to Texas.”
Several record companies got in touch with Willie. Columbia was one of them. I thought they were offering too much money! At that time I think they were trying to take him off the market. That’s when we made a deal with Atlantic. We got to use our band and I got signed approval. We did two records for them, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In Phases and Stages they talked Willie into using another band after we did it.
SF: Why do you think the record companies wouldn’t let Willie use his own band for recording?
PE: RCA just didn’t do that! They didn’t have to promise him any money upfront, and Willie was about breaking even. They figured if he ever hit something, he’d be good. Merchandising is all it is. At any rate, when Atlantic dropped their country office in Nashville and Jerry Wexler (producer) quit, that gave us an excuse. So, we went to Columbia and Willie now has complete artistic control. I mean, we go out and do the records; we did Stardust in three days. We’ve never taken over three days to do an album.
We don’t know what we are gonna do when we go in the studio! Alright? When we did Stardust, Willie had 80 songs. We got the lead sheets because he didn’t want to do them wrong. This is the type of a song you’re supposed to revere. That’s what we thought. That’s our thinking still! We weren’t trying to jazz them up or anything like that. No, they were good when they came out. So, Willie just wanted to make sure he got the melody straight-on. We got a hold of Booker T. and he played with us and that was a real inspiration.
Willie never tells us how to play. If I’m playing fancy he might say it’s too busy. But, like he told me one time, if I wasn’t a better drummer than he was, he wouldn’t have hired me!
SF: Let’s backtrack a moment, Paul. What was it like when you were traveling in a station wagon pulling that trailer?
PE: Well, it varied. Of course we weren’t out nearly as much as we are now. I still remember our longest route very well. We went 15,000 miles in 18 days and played 9 jobs. We started in San Antonio, to New Jersey, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to San Diego, back to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, and back again to Los Angeles for the American Association of Country Music (AACM) awards. The last day was from Los Angeles to Stamford, Connecticut. We had 69 hours to make it!
SF: How many of you were there in the car?
PE: There were 5 people. Pulling a trailer with our P.A. system and everything. We set it up ourselves. Amps, and brain that I worked. One microphone. One microphone stand.
SF: Were you playing Rogers drums back then?
PE: I was playing Gretsch.
SF: I imagine that life on the road is a little different now?
PE: Yeah, it’s quite a bit different, but we were having fun then. A lot of people talk about them being hard times. They weren’t really hard times. We might not have had any money, but we had enough where we didn’t go hungry. We weren’t wet. Back home, if we ain’t cold, we ain’t wet and we ain’t hungry, we classified it as a “good time.” We got a kick out of being 69 hours from that 3,280 miles. It was a challenge and we said, “Well, we’ll show ’em that we can do it!” And we had to dress in the car on the way to the gig. I don’t remember them as bad times. There are just as many bad times now as there were then. You know, I worry about Willie now security- wise. Of course most times, like Willie says, “Who hurts you worse than security?”
SF: Do you rehearse before you go on the road?
PE: We’ve never rehearsed in our lives. Even to this day. Willie doesn’t want to rehearse. That’s the reason we don’t know what we’re gonna record. When we recorded Redheaded Stranger we did not know it was a concept album until the second day. So, Willie didn’t do the songs in sequence. But, we did hold that mood for 3 days. That’s how our group cut that one, too. Willie doesn’t want you to pre-plan anything. That’s where we’re different from a lot of people because we don’t want anything planned. We want it to be spontaneous. Willie won’t have a soundtrack or anything play behind him when he appears on TV. We do it ourselves because we think that after we’ve done the songs awhile, they can improve. The only arrangement we have is what we follow from Willie. That’s how we improve it. But, if I hear him hit it one time, then the next time he does it again, I may do something with it. And if he hits it again, I may do something and then Willie may hear me do something with it. The bassman will probably hear me and then it sort of gets left in the arrangement. It builds as we play. Willie doesn’t want anything rehearsed to sterility and everybody in our band believes in that.
SF: When Willie writes new material, he just goes out onstage and surprises everybody?
PE: Oh, he does that. We did one song at a recording session just the other day. Took us two and a half days. I asked, “How do you want the ending?” Willie said, “I don’t know. Something like that.”
SF: Are you still taking care of the business end of the band as much as you used to?
PE: Yes. Well, I started out that way, I guess, because it got down to where it was just me and Willie. Just by seniority alone, I probably have been the bandleader. I make sure everything’s coming off right. We don’t believe in many titles, but if you had to put a title it would be bandleader. Bandleader and Road Manager. Whatever. But, now I have a lot of help.
I’ll say one thing for our band. Everybody in our band, except Chris who we just hired, worked in 1973 for $100 a week for a year. What’s so funny is that we owe more money now than we did then!
SF: When were you first aware that your music was catching on to a much larger audience than it had been?
PE: Well, the music was catching on almost everywhere we played. We played a place in Texas, the type of place where they have hay in the rafters. That’s their acoustics. At that time, I was wearing black suits with a long red felt-lined cape. And they called me “The Devil.” We played there on Friday night; Saturday during the day we played at the State Capitol; Saturday night we played in Austin; Sunday we played at a Country Club in Brownsville, Texas. We played the same show at every place! And we were going over! Our records didn’t represent us at all.
SF: With such a large following now. Do you feel any kind of responsibility towards your listeners?
PE: Oh, for sure. That is why I told you about the first time I’d seen Willie cry before an audience. I did, too! I was really emotional. I felt that was a moving thing. Of course, all the time the audience controls us. They always determine what we play. Many times, before we were very popular, we’d start off playing one thing, and if it was a country crowd, Willie started throwing in “Fraulein” and things like that. He makes sure he pleases. We try to please the crowd. We’ve always tried to do that. One time Willie was signing an autograph not too long ago. A policeman told him to move on. He said, “You’re gonna find yourself in jail!” Willie said “Okay.” Kept signing autographs. I ran and got the sergeant and that sergeant took that policeman and got him away from there! In Kansas City they wanted us to set up a table and sign autographs! You can’t do that, really. If it comes spontaneously, it comes. But, if you set up a table, they’ll take the table and everything! There’d be such a crowd. One time we played a place and a girl passed out and she didn’t have anywhere to fall. She stayed passed out upright.
SF: Was it a tough adjustment not playing small clubs anymore and playing the big halls?
PE: We still play the small clubs. Just before we played at the last Fourth of July picnic, we played all the old Texas joints that we used to work in. We just didn’t advertise. I mean, we didn’t tell anybody anything. We just went back and played for them and did a grand opening that seated 300 people.
SF: So, being famous wasn’t a hard adjustment?
PE: No. I don’t think I am famous. Maybe infamous! I guess I’m recognized a lot now. And I like it. There’s a price you pay for it, naturally. Like Willie said one time to this lady that was right on top of his head. It was in San Antonio and she said, “Oh, you’re Willie Nelson! You don’t remember me do ya?” And he said, “No M’am. I don’t. But, I appreciate you rememberin’ me.” I thought that was the greatest comeback I’d ever heard in my life!
SF: Newsweek had quoted you as saying that one of the things you learned from Willie was tolerance.
PE: Oh yeah. I have learned that. I used to get in fights. I still do, but now maybe it’s just twice a year instead of every week. Now, everything I do is a reflection on Willie. These people don’t really know me, and so whatever they say doesn’t really matter. If they say something smart, I just turn around, say ‘Thank you very much,’ and go on. Whereas before, I would just turn around and say “Okay mother! Let’s get it on!” I fought Golden Gloves for 9 years. I really can take care of myself. But, also I always carried a pistol. But, I’ve seen Willie ride in the back of cars when I know he’s had 2 hours sleep. And I’d wake him up and he woke up with a smile! And I know that has been a forced smile a lot, but, it did things for me. You know, I thought, “Well by God, if he can do it, I can do it!” The tolerance is for the people. A lot of people can be abusive sometimes and overbearing. And Willie will just be so kind and so gentle. In that respect I learned an awful lot.
I never took any of his heed in business, now! I think Willie’s a lousy businessman. Because he believes in people. All the people. He doesn’t believe in contracts or anything like that. Y’know, everybody isn’t that nice.
SF: As far as your commitment to the music, back in 1954, did you always feel that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
PE: Oh yeah. For sure. I had to play. It’s in your blood. Or if it’s not in your blood—it’s addictive. I had to spend less than $50 traveling or flying somewhere and back for a gig, and unloading my drums cost $40. I was working 3 nights a week and making $15 a night. So yeah! I’d say I was working for the love of it.
SF: Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to get out of music?
PE: No, I never did. That’s the reason I went to work with Willie this last time. I owned about 5 houses and a couple of duplexes. I sold them all one at a time because I needed the money to play and stay with what I wanted to do. At that time, I didn’t think it was dedication to the music, so to speak. It was just really what I wanted to do. So, it was purely selfish.
SF: And you never had dreams of becoming famous?
PE: No, I never did. ‘Course after you see people around you that do make it, you might think, “Boy, that would be nice.” But, we never did think we could really do it. We weren’t really thinking in that direction, back then. I can recall the first 500 dollar day that I booked. Took me 6 months to get another one!
SF: How do you feel about Rogers drums?
PE: Well, I love ’em, really. I already had a brand new set of Rogers, and the company gave me another set. Instead of taking them I just augmented the drums I already had. Now I’ve got 7 tom-toms, one bass drum and a few little toys that I play with. A vibraslap, a cabasa, a tambourine, and a Chinese bell tree which I’ve got mounted on a stand. I play it note for note. They’re not ‘true’ in pitch so you have to memorize which note corresponds with the other. Like, I have one of the bells that naturally has a mark on it. And I can count, like, one time I’ll start on that one, on some other songs I’ll start with the one below it, or two above it. I just have to memorize which bell corresponds down.
SF: How about your cymbals?
PE: Well, I’ve always used A. Zildjians. Rogers drums, Speedking pedal, and a Ludwig snare.
SF: Does it matter to you, really? Are you fussy about what you’re going to play on?
PE: Not as long as they’ve got good hardware and handle like these handle. It really doesn’t matter. These particular drums I’ve got, I don’t know whether they’ve aged or what, but the reason I didn’t want to take a new set is because I like the wood in them. I like the way they sound.
SF: Is your snare wood?
PE: No, it’s metal. I like the snare really crisp. I’m using a brush head, y’know, a symphony type brush head and it’s got a rough surface.
SF: You play a lot of brushes!
PE: Yeah, I do play a lot of brushes. Fastest brush in the West.
SF: Why did the band decide to use two drummers for awhile?
PE: Well, when Jody Payne had a song out called “Three Dollar Bill” we were trying to let Jody have about 15 minutes to push his song. I would come out and play behind him and the crowd was used to seeing Willie behind or in front of me. They’d always start clapping for Willie and when Jody would start to sing you could forget it! So, we hired Rex Ludwick just to sit in for Jody. And it worked fine. We were coming back from New Jersey for the CMA (Country Music Awards) awards and CBS had two sets of drums already miked on the set. I said, “Let’s try ’em together.” And that’s how we started with two drummers. But, Rex hasn’t played with us since last year.
SF: How did you personally like working with another drummer?
PE: I liked it for awhile. I think at the end we got a little too overpowering. Rex is more or less like a rock star. My theory is if I can’t hear every word that Willie’s saying, I’m playing too loud. Rex’s theory was supposed to be if he couldn’t hear everything I was playing, he was playing too loud. That came from Willie. I learned that from Willie. Sometimes I would ask him, “Am I too loud? Am I too soft?” He’d ask, “Well, can you hear me?” With the microphones, I can play brushes and they can turn the volume up. We always have the same sound man, light man, monitors, sound system, same monitor guy working on it. That helps a lot. They’ve got, I think, 13 mikes on my drums. All my drums are double-miked. They mike the snares on the top and bottom.
SF: Why double-miked? One set for recording?
PE: No. There’s just two mike’s on each drum. I’ve got two overheads and also a swinging mike for the bell tree and the toys that I play with. I like that.
SF: Do you use the same drums in the studio?
PE: Oh, yes.
SF: All seven toms and everything?
PE: Yeah. In the studio, I don’t play like I do live, because it doesn’t sound the same. It would sound terrible! Now, if you had the same crowd noise like we had in Tahoe when we did the Live album that would be different! The audience was about 90 decibels. But, in a studio, I just couldn’t play that loud.
SF: Do you use different tuning or heads in the studio?
PE: I mute them a lot. Just put tape on them and mute them. We did that Ray Price album, and that was one I really loved! I played good on that, I’ve got to admit. It was mostly brushwork. That’s one thing about playing country music or the old songs. We’re not playin’ what we heard. We’re playin’ what we lived a long time ago.
SF: Is there a history of “country drummers” that could be traced, say similar to the history of “jazz drummers?”
PE: Well, when I started out there was only one drummer of any prominence. Gene Krupa. I still have some old records that he used to do. Then it was Joe Morello, naturally. I’d like to sit down and figure out all his rhythm patterns. And now, I don’t know. There’s so many great ones now. Probably the greatest one was Ginger Baker. But, there’s so many great ones now, it’s hard to pick a drummer.
SF: What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?
PE: Usually, I don’t listen to music at home unless it’s something that we’ve done. We make a tape of every show, and that is more or less our rehearsal. We listen to it. After I’ve listened to what I’ve done I’ll say, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that there.” Or, “That’s in the way there.” When people come over, that’s when I play my records. And, I don’t like hardcore country! Or acid rock.
SF: You don’t like hardcore country?
PE: No. Because there’s nothing there. You know what I mean? I like to take out our records and listen to lyrics and sometimes the rhythm patterns.
SF: What are you listening to when you’re onstage?
PE: I listen to who’s playing the lead, and the bassman. That’s Bea Spears. The band has two bassmen now, but Bea Spears is who I listen to. We play very good together. Jody and I hit some new licks while we were playing “Kansas City” behind Hank Cochran the other night. I don’t know how it came about because I was just listening to him and it came out that way. We can never duplicate it because we don’t know what we did! You had to be there.
SF: Have you ever thought about doing clinics?
PE: No, I couldn’t. I’m not capable. If somebody asked me something, I’d answer them. I’ve always done that. Especially younger kids. But I don’t know if I’m capable enough to teach. No, not at all. I’m not a rudimental drummer. I don’t play rudiments. I did talks at a Career Day in a high school recently, if that’s what you’re talking about. About traveling in bands. I’ve done that. I did it to show what they could expect. That is what you can expect if you go out, you know. If you’re expecting to make big money, well, be a plumber, because you’re going to make a lot more money. Twenty years is not very long to be a musician. I’ve been playing music per se since I was seven years old. I’m 47 now. I usually tell them, if you think you ought to quit, and you can, then you should. I never was able to.
SF: How’s Willie as a bandleader?
PE: He’s what you see. Willie’s not the luxury type. He’s the blue-jean type. Sometimes we forget how famous he is. To us he’s just ol’ Will. He’s not the boss or anything like that. And if anybody ever messes up, all you have to say is, “Man, I’m sorry I messed up. I’ll try to do better next time.” And he always says, “Well, I can relate to that.” He doesn’t want to hear any excuses. Just say, “I messed up, man. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” I usually say, “I messed up and if I live long enough it’ll happen again.” Because it will. I want to say I like what I do, but I like what other people do, too. But I hear something different. It’s not rudiments. It’s . . . .
PE: Yeah, true. I guess it’s something like that.
SF: Could you single out any one thing that you could attribute your success to?
PE: Willie Nelson, really. The main thing. Because, of the kind of person he is. I never would’ve worked that hard for money. And then the type of music he’s playing. With Willie the first thing you’ve got to do is forget to count and start feeling it instead. Willie says the difference between reading music and playing by ear is the difference between writing a book and reading a book. At one time, Willie was classified as a musician’s entertainer. When he came out with his first record, I went down to the radio station and had them put it on an 8-track so I could play it in my car. Then I Wrote . . .had all the heavy songs on it. When I started playing with him, it was so hard! We would do things like “Blackjack Country Chain” and the sock cymbal comes down on one. And that’s all! One on the sock cymbal. And the bass drum was 2, 3 and 4. With your right hand you played a shuffle with a brush. With your left hand you hit in between the beat with a stick. I played with groups where once we started playing good, they fired us! Because it wasn’t country. The other guy I used to work for was Ray Channing. I loved him, but he’s dead now. We worked a hall one night with him and he came over and said, “What kinda shit ya call that?” But, I said, “This is where I want to be, man.” It wasn’t the money. It was where I wanted to be. Willie didn’t ask to hire me. I asked to be hired.
Willie used to come through Houston with just a bassman and he didn’t have a drummer. He came through there and was just putting together a band and I’d always go out to see him. He knew I was making a lot of money. He asked me how to get a hold of a certain drummer we both knew in Fort Worth. I said, “Shit, Willie! I’m better’n him!” And he said, “Well, would you work for $30 a night?” I said, “Damn right I would!” And that struck it off and I went to work for him. We did 29 one-nighters in a row. And that was pretty good money then. It wasn’t what I was used to making though.
I worked on a little kids T.V. show. Captain . . .something! We used to work all day. Real early in the morning and then in the evening. And it paid great money, about $500 or $600 a week. The host hated us because the union made him hire a live band. All we did was play some song while he made up words to it.
SF: So, what’s ahead for the group?
PE: Well, all that’s good, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been working hard this year. This is the first time we’ve really had off. The last tour lasted over 6 weeks. Before that, we’ve only had as much as 6 days off between tours. And now we’ve got quite a bit of time off and I’m enjoying myself, personally.
SF: Were you working much with the movies?
PE: We worked on this last one, Honeysuckle Rose. It lasted 6 weeks. But, it wasn’t that time consuming. It was just waiting for them to get everything together. All we did in the movie was play to a live audience. A real audience. See, we promoted the gigs and everything and we charged the people to get in. That was a real audience. We promoted that outside show just like we’d ordinarily do. Like the Fourth of July picnic we promoted in Austin. They were real shows for the audience. That was the only time I really got off. But, it’s a lot of waiting before you get ready to go. That’s not good for us because we like to pick.