Ray Charles and Willie Nelson
Screengrab via YouTube

'Seven Spanish Angels': The Legacy of Willie Nelson and Ray Charles' Timeless Duet


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Some of Willie Nelson's best recordings from the post-outlaw '80s were duets. Examples range from his and Merle Haggard's famous version of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" to a rehash of "To All the Girls I Loved Before" with Julio Iglesias. Despite those songs' impact on popular culture, it's "Seven Spanish Angels" featuring longtime friend Ray Charles that best defines Nelson's era of timeless collaborations.

An Homage to Marty Robbins

Famous songwriter Troy Seals ("Who's Going to Fill Their Shoes," "Lost in the Fifties Tonight") co-wrote the song with Eddie Sester as a tribute to Marty Robbins' "El Paso" and other past nods to country music's Tex-Mex influences. The duo wrote a masterpiece in its time, packed with the Latin flavor and tales of faith, love and murder that often drive great country songs.

A Hit In Need of a Country Singer

L-R: American musicians Minnie Pearl, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson smile together at an unidentified event, 1980s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

L-R: American musicians Minnie Pearl, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson smile together at an unidentified event, 1980s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Without Robbins alive to sing what could've been another career touchstone, the song was successfully pitched to Nelson. Around the same time, producer Billy Sherill heard a demo and wanted the song to be held for Charles. Fortunately, everyone got their way, with Charles revisiting his classic crossover moment, 1962's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album, alongside one of the genre's top stars.

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The song went on to top the country charts and appeared on both singers' duet albums. First came Charles' Friendship in 1984. Nelson's Half Nelson followed a year later.

A Singer's Song

Read More: How 'Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain' Saved Willie Nelson's Career

Charles and Nelson introduced their varied audiences to a well-written song, enhanced by their iconic voices.

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Had there been an American Idol-type show in the mid-'80s, numerous singers would've tried to prove their range with their rendition. Like "Tennessee Whiskey," it's a singer's song, adaptable beyond the bounds of country or soul.

The way Charles and Nelson took turns singing verses makes the song ideal cover material whenever two talented, distinct voices join forces on stage or in the studio. Recent examples include Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss' gorgeous rendition at the 2015 Gershwin Awards, an event honoring Nelson. And let's not forget Dwight Yoakam and Chris Stapleton's team-up at the 2016 CMA Awards.

This article was originally published in 2018.

Editor's Note: Products featured on Wide Open Country are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission. 

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'Seven Spanish Angels' Lyrics:

He looked down into her brown eyes
And said, "Say a prayer for me."
She threw her arms around him
Whispered, "God will keep us free."
They could hear the riders comin'
He said, "This is my last fight. If they take me back to Texas
They won't take me back alive."

There were seven Spanish Angels
At the altar of the Sun
They were prayin' for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped
And the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

She reached down and picked the gun up
That lay smokin' in his hand
She said, "Father please forgive me
I can't make it without my man."
And she knew the gun was empty
And she knew she couldn't win
Her final prayer was answered
When the rifles fired again

There were seven Spanish Angels
At the altar of the Sun
They were prayin' for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped
And the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

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There were seven Spanish Angels
At the altar of the Sun
They were prayin' for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped
And the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

There were seven Spanish Angels
At the altar of the Sun
They were prayin' for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped
And the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne, ooh
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

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