When he released the duet “Seven Spanish Angels” with Willie Nelson in 1985, it had been nearly 20 years since Ray Charles had a country hit. But behind the force of powerful lyrics and the master musicians, the track quickly raced to the top of the charts.
More than 20 years earlier, a young Ray Charles released what has become, by nearly all standards, one of country music’s finest all-time albums, Modern Sounds in Country and Western. The album fused country and western with rhythm and blues, pop and jazz to redefine the country standards that Charles covered. Songs by Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold and Felice Bryant were included on the album.
And then in the ’80s, when Nashville, Tenn. had forgotten Charles, the legendary singer returned. He recorded a duet with Clint Eastwood, “Beers to You”, that charted and made appearances on several popular TV shows, including Hee Haw. Then, he went all out in ’83 and ’84 and recorded his first country albums since his Modern Sounds Volume Two, also released in 1962.
“Seven Spanish Angels” isn’t on Ray Charles’ country album, but rather Willie Nelson’s album of duets, Half Nelson. For Charles, it was his first No. 1 in 20 years. For Willie, it was another in a long string of hits.
The duet tells the story of an outlaw and his girl who are chased down by a posse while they are running through Mexico on their way back to Texas. The pair are cornered and instead of giving themselves up, they embrace, declaring that they will meet again in a better place, and prepare for a shootout. The man is immediately shot. The woman, grief-stricken, picks up his rifle knowing well that the chamber is empty and…
Well, you’ll just have to listen to the song to find out what happens.