Al Hurricane, Influential New Mexico Balladeer, Dies at 81

Al Hurricane in 2016. He was called “the Godfather” of New Mexico music and performed at times with his younger brothers.

ALBUQUERQUE — Al Hurricane, an eye-patch-wearing balladeer who forged a pioneering musical style by playfully blending New Mexico folk music with the rhythms of rock, jazz and country, died on Sunday at his home here. He was 81.

His granddaughter Samantha Sánchez said the cause was complications of prostate cancer.

Mr. Hurricane, who was born Alberto Nelson Sánchez, was widely known as the “godfather” of the New Mexico musical styles he helped develop, performing at times with his younger brothers, the musicians Tiny Morrie (Amador Sánchez) and Baby Gaby (Gabriel Sánchez).

In the 1970s and ’80s, a period when Hispanic cultural figures were rising to prominence in New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest, Mr. Hurricane gained fame singing in both Spanish and English, and often in Spanglish, as the Sánchez clan’s most eminent sibling.

As a traveling musician, he performed in nightclubs, at municipal fiestas, in concert halls and on television shows, like the nationally syndicated “Val de la O Show,” produced in Albuquerque.

His original songs included “(El Corrido de) La Prisión de Santa Fe,” about one of the nation’s deadliest prison riots, in which 33 inmates were killed over 36 hours on Feb. 2, 1980, at the now-shuttered Penitentiary of New Mexico.

Mr. Hurricane nurtured longstanding ties with Latin American musical traditions. He put his own twist on genres like the corrido, the borderland ballad of four-line stanzas, and the cumbia, which is thought to have originated on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

He was born on July 10, 1936, in the village of Dixon in northern New Mexico, the eldest of four children of parents who moved around New Mexico, the family in tow, in search of opportunity.

His father, José, was a miner who took the family to the town of Silver City; his mother, Bennie, worked as a department store clerk, seamstress, photographer’s assistant and nurse before focusing on promoting the musical talents of her children.

Mr. Hurricane said he had gotten his stage name when he was a child, an affectionate reference to his habit of running around and knocking things over.

His family moved to Albuquerque when he was 9, and he graduated from Albuquerque High School. He became a troubadour as a teenager, performing at restaurants in Old Town.

While on his way to perform in Denver in 1969, the vehicle he was traveling in flipped over five times. He was thrown out of a window, and a shard of glass embedded in his right eye. With the loss of the eye he took to wearing an eye patch.

He continued to tour and recorded dozens of albums. When not on the road, he often headlined shows at the Far West, the Sánchez family’s own nightclub in Albuquerque.

In 1986 his 2-year-old daughter, Lynnea, died from internal bleeding, and his estranged wife, Angela Sanchez, and her boyfriend, Ruben Lopez, were found guilty of child abuse and sentenced to several years in prison.

Afterward Mr. Hurricane suffered a heart attack, which he attributed, in an interview with the newspaper The New Mexican in 1998, to the stress of losing his daughter.

His marriage to Ms. Sánchez ended in divorce, as did his previous marriage, to Nettie Fleming. In addition to his granddaughter Samantha Sánchez, he is survived by seven children, 14 other grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Mr. Hurricane, center, in 2011 with former Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and former Representative Heather Wilson.

After recovering from the heart attack, Mr. Hurricane returned to writing songs and touring. As he grew older he wore a jet-black toupee. He also campaigned for politicians, including Susana Martinez, the conservative Republican who is serving her second term as New Mexico’s governor.

His last major performance was in May, at a concert in his honor in Albuquerque.

A raconteur who regaled visitors with tales of his childhood and the music business, Mr. Hurricane reveled in his fame. Sometimes he meditated on cultural and economic shifts.

“I am very disappointed, not in the music, but in the fact that the internet’s taking over everything,” he told The New Mexican in 2015. He lamented how challenging it had become for musicians to sell their music.

But he showed an appreciation for newer genres, like reggaeton, which originated in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. “As for the music,” he said, “some of it’s beautiful.”

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