As I was motorvating over the hill a couple weeks ago, an oldies radio station broadcast a commercial announcing an Al Hurricane concert at a local casino.
I don’t usually pay much attention to commercials, but I’m a longtime fan of the Hurricane, so this piqued my interest. It quickly turned into a “say it ain’t so” moment.
Al “Hurricane” Sanchez is on his farewell tour.
After more than six decades as a performer, “La Leyenda” … the “Godfather of New Mexico Music” … “the King of Latino Swing” (OK, I made that last one up) is stepping down from his lofty perch atop New Mexico’s music scene. All genres.
No other New Mexico group has produced as much music, has had the reach or staying power of the Al Hurricane Band. (Oh, and leyenda is Spanish for legend. La means the. And “motorvating” is a word Chuck Berry made up for the song “Maybellene.”)
So is Al Hurricane really ending his 60-year musical run? I spoke with him Wednesday, and he says it’s true. The 79-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist has been battling prostate cancer and decided to keep playing as long as he can.
“I wanted a chance to say thank you to the people for being with us all these years,” he said.
The Farewell Tour started in April, and when it will end is up in the air. “I started gaining my weight back and feeling more comfortable, so I told my son to keep booking. I want to keep going as long as I can go.”
Hurricane’s son, Al Jr., has been a vital member of the band on vocals, the trumpet and keyboards for 44 years.
“We’re trying to hit all the cities we can,” Al Jr. says of the tour, which is focused in New Mexico and Colorado. “I open the shows, and he does a set in the middle.”
Hurricane says, “I just can’t play for hours anymore.”
There are some opportunities now on the books to see the Al Hurricane band perform.
On Jan. 30, the band will play at the Valencia County Matanza at Eagle Park in Belen during the day and will perform again that night at the Caravan East nightclub in Albuquerque.
On Feb. 6, the band will perform in Silver City.
And on Feb. 13, the band will play a Valentine’s concert at the Ohkay Casino, just north of Española.
Al Jr. says a partial family reunion is planned for the two February shows. Performing with the band will be Al Hurricane’s brothers and musical collaborators from their younger days, Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby.
It seems like Al Hurricane has been around the local music scene forever. And that would be true for anyone from around these parts who was born after 1955, when he began his career as a professional musician. Though born in Dixon, he graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1954.
His concerts traditionally feature everything danceable: rancheras, cumbias, polkas, country and good old rock ‘n’ roll. You might even hear some Chuck Berry.
Hurricane has 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.
According to my vintage Al Hurricane T-shirt, the largest crowd his band played before was about 200,000 people at a Calle Ocho Festival in Miami.
Over the decades, Hurricane has released more than 30 albums. “Mi Saxophone” (1967), which includes his biggest hit, “Sentimiento,” is a must-have for anyone who wants to hear what the Hurricane phenomenon has been all about.
“That’s my gold record,” Hurricane says of the award he received for “Sentimiento,” a song he penned. It was his biggest seller and one recorded by several other singers, including the late Texas recording star Selena.
In addition to his strong influence on Spanish-language music in the Southwest, especially northern New Mexico, Al Hurricane is 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.
Hurricane’s mom, Bennie Sanchez – who gave Hurricane his nickname when he was a toddler – was also a concert promoter in the 1960s and ’70s and brought names like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Little Richard and Elvis Presley to Albuquerque. Of course, she also promoted her boys’ music.
“Mom was my inspiration,” Hurricane says.
During a recent show with several bands, Hurricane said that, as his band started playing “Sentimiento,” members of the other groups flooded the stage to join in. And it seemed everyone in the crowd was singing along.
“It floored me. They all knew the song,” he said. “That’s what makes me happy. That’s what keeps me going.
“I don’t want to sound negative or anything, but I can die happy. I did what I wanted to do.”
For more information on the band and the farewell tour, go to alhurricane.net.
OLDIES RADIO: By the way, the oldies station on my car radio was KDSK 92.7 FM – or 1240 AM if you want to hear the older oldies as originally broadcast in glorious mono. Both stations broadcast the same signal at the same time and play stuff you never hear anywhere else (some for good reason).
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