The Last Word on the Willie Nelson Bus That's NOT Willie Nelson's Bus

Though advertised as a Honeysuckle Rose, the bus that recently sold in Whitehouse, Texas for $100,000, belonged to drummer Paul English.
Sun June 8, 2014 1:30 pm
Me & Paul, named after a 1984 song, was listed on Craigslist as a “former Willie Nelson Tour Bus,” but it was designed for his drummer, Paul English, as a plaque states.
Ryan Hutson

In an interview for his 2008 biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life , Joe Nick Patoski asked Mr. Nelson, who has residences in both Hawaii and Texas, where he considers home.

"We were on his bus," Mr. Patoski said. "He just pointed to the table, to say definitively that this—the bus—was home."

Like Mr. Nelson's famously weathered Martin N-20 guitar, Trigger, his “home” also has a name: Honeysuckle Rose. Even when he's at his ranch in Spicewood, Texas, legend has it that Mr. Nelson often opts to sleep on the bus. The bus is also where Mr. Nelson frequently engages in what he calls “adjusting his personality”—or smoking marijuana.

All told, there have been five buses named Honeysuckle Rose, according to representatives at Florida Coach, where Nelson has gotten his transportation since 1979. At least two are thought to be in the hands of private collectors, said Florida Coach’s general manager, Caleb Calhoun. And if a bona fide Honeysuckle Rose hit the market today, Mr. Patoski said that it could become a viable tourist attraction.

On May 1, in  a post titled “Willie Nelson’s Old Tour Bus Is Being Sold on Craigslist,”  The Village Voice suggested that such a vehicle had come up for auction. A seller in Whitehouse, Tex., had listed a 1983 Eagle tour bus on Craigslist for $29,000, describing it in the headline as a “Former Willie Nelson Tour Bus.”

The Craigslist ad never explicitly said that it was selling Honeysuckle Rose or that Nelson himself had ridden in it. (In fact, a plaque stating “This coach was designed for Paul English of the Willie Nelson band” was visible in Craigslist photos.) Still, The Village Voice piece spawned dozens of stories from outlets ranging from Gawker to Britain’s Daily Mail to the concert industry bible, Pollstar, that used the misleading phrase “Willie Nelson’s bus” in their headlines or text. (Full disclosure: Even we used the phrase “Willie Nelson’s custom-made bus”  in a post about the auction .)

“The problem is that it’s not Willie’s bus,” said Tony Sizemore, who has driven buses on Willie Nelson tours for 31 years. “It was built for Willie’s drummer, Paul English. Willie rode on it from time to time to play dominoes or poker with Paul. But it’s flat-out not true to call it Willie’s bus. It’s Willie Nelson’s drummer’s bus. It’s sort of like me: I’ve been with Willie Nelson all these years, but I’m not Willie Nelson.”

Nevertheless, the auction closed on May 3 at $100,000 — presumably inflated by the international news media attention and perhaps by the confusion with a real Honeysuckle Rose. But by all accounts, the winners — Taylor Perkins and Michael Tashnick, Austin-based entrepreneurs who own Vintage Innovations, a company that restores and rents vintage Airstreams, buses and classic vehicles — knew what they were buying. Mr. Perkins said he spoke to Florida Coach before the sale to check its provenance.

“We knew from Day 1 that it was Paul’s bus,” Mr. Perkins said. (Despite accurate reports  from The Dallas Morning News  and Rolling Stone  clarifying that the bus was assigned to Mr. English in the 1980s, Mr. Perkins’s purchase led to another round of misleading articles about “Willie Nelson’s bus.”)

“In publicizing our purchase, we’ve been very careful to explicitly say it’s a bus used by the Willie Nelson band in the early ’80s, that there were four created and this was one of them used primarily by Paul English. It’s Paul’s,” Mr. Perkins said. 

Mr. Calhoun confirmed that the bus that Vintage Innovations owns is a Florida Coach custom coach originally called Scout but renamed Me & Paul, after Mr. Nelson’s 1984 song of the same name. In the 1980s, it rode alongside the crew bus, Warrior; another bus for the band named Red Headed Stranger; and Mr. Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose.

Mr. Nelson’s first Honeysuckle Rose, a 1983 bus built by Florida Coach, was totaled in a 1990 crash in Nova Scotia, Canada — its interior was salvaged and placed into a 1990 model. Mr. Nelson upgraded in 1996 to a model that his son Lukas now tours in and again in 2005 to a bus that logged over 800,000 miles before being switched out last New Year’s Eve.

Now that he owns Me & Paul, Mr. Perkins said that finding and buying a Honeysuckle Rose has become a priority. In the meantime, Vintage Innovations plans to charter its bus to festivals, concerts and private events. Some of the proceeds will be donated to  Farm Aid , which Mr. Nelson has supported. Although there is often a fine legal line between paying tribute to celebrities and using their names and likenesses for profit without permission, Mark Rothbaum, Mr. Nelson’s longtime manager, said he was largely indifferent to Mr. Perkins’s plans for Me & Paul.

“Go to a Willie show,” Mr. Rothbaum said. “Enjoy the concert. Willie is here. He’s on tour. He is absolutely a great entertainer. What would you rather pay to see? Willie or his friend’s bus? The answer seems simple enough to us.”

Andy Langer is the music columnist for Esquire and the midday D.J. on KGSR in Austin.

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