Willie Nelson’s ‘Seven Spanish Angels’: Story Behind the Iconic Song with Ray Charles

by Jacklyn Krol

What is the story and inspiration behind Willie Nelson and Ray Charles’ track “Seven Spanish Angels”?

The Song’s Creation

Troy Seals and Eddie Sester co-wrote the song and were inspired by famous country artist Marty Robbins. They were specifically influenced by his song “El Paso” which won the first-ever Grammy for Best Country and Western Song back in 1960. Robbins focused on bringing the Tex-Mex culture into his music.

Nelson first heard the track and wanted to record it at a later date. The songwriting pair sent the song to producer Billy Sherill who was working at Columbia Records at the time. Charles was preparing his Friendship album at Columbia. Once Sherill heard the song, he envisioned holding it for a Ray Charles and Ronny Milsap duet. However, Milsap was signed with a competing major label, RCA, and was not interested according to Classic Country Music Stories.

Sherill then learned that Nelson was interested in the song. Charles recorded his portion of the song in Nashville while Nelson recorded it at his studio in Austin, Texas. The vocals were sent back to Nashville where Sherill orchestrated the production.

One of the most surprising facts about the song is the fact that it was originally a much longer song. Sherill thought it was too long and a bit complicated so he enlisted the writers to rewrite it to simplify it.

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles Duet Reception

The Friendship duet album with various country performers was a major success for Charles. On March 23, 1985, “Seven Spanish Angels” and Friendship record both reached No. 1 on the country charts. This marked Charles’ first and only No. 1 on the country charts. Overall, the single spent an impressive twelve weeks on the chart. Nelson later included their duet on his 1985 compilation record, Half Nelson.

Nelson and Charles have been friends over the years. They have also duetted “Georgia On My Mind” together. Nelson holds Charles in high esteem. When speaking about other people covering classic songs, Nelson brought up his own personal attempt to cover one of his friend’s songs. “Like Ray Charles singing ‘Georgia.’ I had enough nerve to cover him but I never thought I did as good a job on it as he did,” he admitted to Mass Live.

Allison Kraus and Jamey Johnson honored Willie Nelson and his career at the Gershwin Prize Awards Ceremony in 2015 when Nelson was receiving the award for Popular Song and his contributions to music. Kraus and Johnson performed a stunning rendition of “Seven Spanish Angels” that made both Nelson and his wife tear up.