Al Hurricane, ‘Godfather of New Mexico music,’ dies at 81

Al Hurricane, a singer who was often called the “Godfather of New Mexico music” for bridging Mexican rancheras, country music and rock, died Oct. 22 in Albuquerque. He was 81.

His son, Al Hurricane Jr., said the cause was complications from prostate cancer.

Hurricane, the son of a miner, was born Alberto Nelson Sánchez on July 10, 1936, in Dixon, N.M, and he moved frequently before his family settled in Albuquerque when he was 9. His mother, a concert promoter, taught him to sing and play guitar.

He began his professional music career by singing in Albuquerque Old Town restaurants before releasing his first songs, “Lobo” and “Racer,” under the band Al Hurricane & the Night Rockers in 1962.

“When I was a young squirt, I used to have the habit of reaching across the table and would end up hitting a few glasses and plates onto the floor,” he told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “After that happened a couple of times, my mother shook her head and said I was like a hurricane.”

He released his first album, “Mi Saxophone,” in 1967. The album contained his signature song “Sentimiento,” a ballad he wrote for his first wife. Years later, the young Tejano singer named Selena heard the song and recorded her own version of it.

In 1969, while on a trip to Colorado, a car carrying Hurricane and five band members skidded on an icy bridge and flipped five times. A piece of glass struck Hurricane’s right eye, causing him to lose it. He wore an eye patch for this rest of his life.

He went on to record more than 30 albums and traveled internationally. Among his most popular songs were “Mexican Cat” and “Pedro’s Girlfriend.” The songs blended traditional New Mexico corridos, Tejano, rock, folk, and country. Often, he sang them in both Spanish and English.

Following the 1980 Santa Fe prison riot — one of the most violent prison riots in U.S. history — Hurricane released the song “(El Corrido De) La Prison De Santa Fe,” a narrative about the conditions that led to the uprising. Hurricane later said the song did not seek to place blame for the violence but to tell a story of the riot that left 33 dead and 200 hurt.

His marriages to Nettie Fleming, with whom he had four children, and Angela Sánchez, with whom he had four more children, ended in divorce. He was estranged from Angela when their daughter, Lynnea, age 2, died of blunt trauma. Not long afterward, Angela and her boyfriend Ruben Lopez were found guilty of child abuse leading to the death and went to prison.

After his daughter’s death, Hurricane said he suffered a heart attack brought on in part because of the stress of the ordeal.

In later years, he was known for sporting an ink-black toupee (which the Santa Fe New Mexican called “one of the worst-kept secrets in New Mexico entertainment circles”). He was a presence on the campaigns of Republican officeseekers, including former U.S. congresswoman Heather Wilson and current Gov. Susana Martinez.

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