Paul English: Music Should Have Lows, Valleys, and No Drums At All

: Most of my published drummer interviews are edited versions of longer conversations. Relistening to the interviews while digitizing the original cassette tapes, I noticed my pattern for getting taped interviews ready for publication. To save time, I would often not bother transcribing sections of taped conversation I knew I would not use in the published interview. And then I would edit my transcriptions.

I’m now rediscovering going through my tapes and transcripts, is plenty of material — both on tape and paper — never used. But, statements or facts made during interview sessions, cut from the published interviews, sometimes have more value decades later.

This excerpt from my Modern Drummer May 1981 feature interview with Willie Nelson‘s drummer, Paul English, is a case in point. The interview back story and full MD feature interview is posted here. While standard wire brushes have plenty of alternatives today, but, for the record, Paul English’s invention “wooden brushes” is the first I ever heard of a wire brush alternative. I thought Mr. English’s “wooden brushes” were a great idea.

Finally, Rogers Drum company turned this interview into a supplemental handout for Rogers Drum dealers.


Scott K Fish: I wanted to ask you about a stigma that seems to be attached to country & western drummers, and also, blues drummers. That, because they are not busy drummers, I often hear there’s nothing to playing country & western drums.

Paul English: That depends on what they’re playing. Music is music. (Of) course, workin’ with Willie (Nelson) is a lot different than working with somebody else.

But, now, working with Willie we play — without people knowing it, maybe — they may not know it, but musicians know it. We play jazz, and we’ll play pop, and we play some hardcore country. And a lot of times I like to go from a funk four beat rhythm pattern into a good country 2/4 in the same song. Y’know, it gives it a real good release, a good feel.

And also, I like to interpret the song: what does the song say?

The only thing I dislike about rock. Acid rock, I should say, not rock. But it only has one level, and that’s high. And I think [music] should have lows, and valleys, and no drums at all!

Matter of fact, Louis Bellson is the only drummer I’ve ever talked to — of any prominence, y’know — 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. ‘Cause I like to build up to something real loud — and just leave out that one beat — and then maybe come back to a real soft shuffle.

Also, see, I play with mallets, and I play with the brushstick. I play with wooden brushes — which nobody has ever heard of ’cause I made ’em (laughs).

SKF: What are wooden brushes?

PE: Wooden brushes. Alright, you take some little bitty dowels. You know, wooden dowels. Take about 15 or 20 of them and cut ’em off the length of the stick. And you glue them all together in a circle, and then wrap some tape around, and sort of file the ends of them off. They’re only about one-quarter inch in diameter. And then you have your set of wooden brushes. And they’re real good when you’re doing something like, On The Road Again.

SKF: You’re using [wooden brushes] on that song?

PE: I’m using them on On The Road Again, [and] on I’m A Memory. ‘Cause I’m playing, like, 16th notes with a syncopated accent.


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