Al Hurricane, known as the “Godfather of New Mexico music” for developing a distinct sound bridging the state’s unique Hispanic traditions with country and rock, died Sunday (Oct 22). His son, Al Hurricane, Jr., told The Associated Press that his father died from complications related to a long battle against prostate cancer. Two of his daughters were at his side. He was 81.
Hurricane, Jr. said his father had already said his goodbyes to his friends, fans and his children. “He didn’t want people crying when it was his time to go,” his son said. His death came two years after the elder Hurricane went on a farewell tour following his announcement he had Stage 4 prostate cancer and kept performing despite chemotherapy treatment.
Born Alberto Nelson Sanchez on July 10, 1936, in the tiny village of Dixon, New Mexico, he was raised for a time in Ojo Sarco before moving to Arizona and later Albuquerque. He learned to play the guitar thanks to his mother and his father, a miner.
Hurricane 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. He released his first album, Mi Saxophone, in 1967. The album contained his signature song “Sentimiento,” a ballad he wrote for his first wife and mother of his four children. Years later, a young Tejano singer named Selena would hear the song and record 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’d wear an eye patch for this rest of his life, and it would become part of his unique look. Other popular songs he recorded were “South Bend / Burrito” and “Mexican Cat / Pedro’s Girlfriend.” The songs blended traditional New Mexico corridos, Tejano, rock, folk, and country. Often, he sang them in both Spanish and English.
He went on to record more than 30 albums and received a number of awards while traveling internationally.
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” which was a narrative about the conditions that led to the uprising. Hurricane would later say 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. In his later years, Hurricane would campaign on behalf of former U.S Rep. Heather Wilson and current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, both Republicans.
Al Hurricane, Jr., says final funeral arrangements have not been made.