ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A chapter of New Mexico music history is closed.
Yet the legacy of Al Hurricane will live on.
The New Mexico native died Sunday at the age of 81. His death came two years after he went on a farewell tour following his announcement he had stage 4 prostate cancer. He continued touring despite chemotherapy treatment.
Hurricane, known as the “Godfather of New Mexico music,” released more than 30 albums during his 60-plus year career.
Though his music reached beyond the New Mexico borders, it was in his home state where he became an icon.
In July, he was named a recipient of the inaugural Platinum Music Awards.
“New Mexico’s music has been forever changed by Al Hurricane’s unique performances and his ideas for creating a ‘New Mexico sound,’ ” said David Schwartz, president of New Mexico Music Commission. “He will be deeply missed by his friends and fans from a wide variety of musical genres. And his legacy will remain an important part of the state’s musical culture for many years to come.”
Born Alberto Nelson Sanchez on July 10, 1936, in Dixon, he was raised for a time in Ojo Sarco before moving to Arizona and later Albuquerque, where he graduated from Albuquerque High in 1954.
He learned to play the guitar thanks to his mother and his father, a miner.
Hurricane began his professional music career in 1955 and worked his way through gigs in Old Town restaurants.
He released his first album, “Mi Saxophone,” in 1967. The album contained his signature song “Sentimiento,” which would later be recorded by Selena. In 1969, during a trip to Colorado, a car carrying Hurricane and five band members skidded on an icy bridge and rolled five times. A piece of glass struck Hurricane’s right eye, which he lost. He’d wear an eye patch for the rest of his life, and it became part of his unique look.
Hurricane’s musical impact reached beyond New Mexico’s borders. He performed throughout the United States and in Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay. His song “Por Eso No Debes” was once the No. 1 song in Costa Rica.
But the biggest impact was for the aspiring singers in the state.
Mariachi singer Antonio Reyna grew up listening to New Mexico music, as well as mariachi.
Reyna was fresh in his career and would perform at Sandia Casino, where Hurricane’s mother, Bennie, would often attend the shows.
It was through Hurricane’s mother that Reyna was able to begin a friendship with Hurricane.
“What I loved most about his performances was his interaction with the crowd,” Reyna said. “He could bring together people in good times and in bad times.”
Losing Hurricane is bitter, and Reyna said the void is huge.
“Al Hurricane is New Mexico music,” Reyna said. “He’s the creator of a style here. With his crafty lyrics, his songs were well-written about people in the state. His music was a representation of all things good in New Mexico.”
When Joseph Wasson Jr. wanted to pack an event, he knew to book Hurricane.
During the early 1990s, Wasson oversaw Albuquerque’s Summerfest series.
“It’s guaranteed that if you want people to get up and dance, you put on Al Hurricane,” Wasson said. “… He was the first person we wanted when the National Hispanic Cultural Center was opening in 2000. He was on that bill. He performed right before Los Lobos, and then he joined them on stage.”
Wasson said Hurricane’s impact is so big that he’s one of the reasons New Mexico music is solid today.
Despite his fame, Hurricane remained a friend and mentor to many people, Wasson said.
“He is a New Mexico treasure and will be missed.”
Final funeral arrangements have not been made.
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2016
The “Godfather of New Mexico music” has died.
Alberto Nelson “Al Hurricane” Sanchez passed away Sunday at age 81.
His nephew, singer Lorenzo Antonio, announced his uncle’s passing on Facebook late Sunday night and the news was later confirmed on Hurricane’s own Facebook fanpage.
For more than 60 years, Hurricane performed music locally and around the world and performed alongside famous musicians, including Fats Domino, Marvin Gaye and Chuck Berry.
Hurricane released more than 30 albums. “Mi Saxophone” from 1967 includes his biggest hit, “Sentimiento.”
In the early ’60s, he took traditional Mexican folk music, electrified it, added a smidgen of rock ‘n’ roll and created a unique style that remains popular. His early ’60s version of “La Bamba” still kicks better than other versions of that hit tune.
Hurricane was also the cornerstone of the Sanchez family music empire. That includes Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby; Hurricane’s sons, Al Jr. and Jerry Dean; his daughter, Erika; and Morrie’s kids, Verónica, Rosamaria, Kristyna and Carolina Sanchez of Sparx and Lorenzo Antonio.
In addition to his music, Hurricane became known for his signature style, including an eye patch (for a injury sustained during a car crash) and a bold head of black hair up through his last performances.
Some of those appearances were in the summer of 2017 in celebration of the naming of the Civic Plaza stage in Downtown Albuquerque as the Al Hurricane Pavilion at Civic Plaza.