A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 11, 2007
One problem that political reporters and bloggers are having since last week’s news that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., isn’t running for re-election is coming up with fresh metaphors for the effect that announcement is having on state politics.
Earthquake. Upheaval. Reshuffling the deck. Tsunami. Frenzy. Stampede. I believe all of those have been used, many of them by me. So let’s just go all the way and say it ripped a hole in the fabric of political reality in New Mexico.
So now I’m going to talk about a Hurricane. No, not another metaphor for tumult. I’m talking about the man with the eye patch who definitely is the most colorful supporter who attended Rep. Heather Wilson’s otherwise low-key announcement news conference in Albuquerque last week — the Godfather of New Mexico music, Al Hurricane.
Unfortunately, he was only there to show his support for Wilson’s Senate bid, not to sing. But, talking to Hurricane after the announcement, I learned something about Heather Wilson I’d never imagined.
She plays the banjo!
Hurricane said he and Wilson were at a presentation for students at an Albuquerque middle school, and she joined him on banjo for a song.
If state Democrats don’t want to lose the all-important bluegrass vote, they might have to bring in Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., to do a little fiddling on the campaign trail. Indeed, this race could take a turn for the musical. Democrat Marty Chávez, besides being mayor of Albuquerque, plays electric guitar. He played “Louie Louie,” “Hang on Sloopy” and some other songs with the band that opened for Joan Jett at a Fourth of July concert at Balloon Fiesta Park.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill: Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of the state’s southern Second Congressional District was still sitting tight as of Wednesday, though sources close to him confirmed the congressman “has started talking to folks about putting together a finance committee and some form of exploratory committee.”
One rule of thumb: When a potential candidate starts talking about “exploratory committees” that almost always means he or she is going to run.
One Republican with whom I spoke this week said Pearce doesn’t need to jump in the Senate race right away. He can sit back, see whether Gov. Bill Richardson decides to run for Senate (I haven’t bugged the Richardson camp today to get a denial, but earlier this week I got an emphatic “No.”) and keep raising money for a House race, which could be transferred to a Senate campaign.
The exploratory committee route might suggest that’s what Pearce is doing.
But my source close to Pearce said, “I don't believe that's a strategy he would pursue. He is strongly considering a run now and will make a decision sooner rather than later. Once the pieces are in place and he's comfortable with a decision, (Pearce will) put out a statement. But it could go either way.”
The club of The Club: While state Republicans were casting their first stones at Chávez on Tuesday, attacking his record as mayor, Wilson was facing an attack — from her right. The conservative Club for Growth, a national anti-tax group, released a statement saying Wilson’s economic record “runs both deep and wide in liberal waters.” The statement quoted club president Pat Toomey saying, “Last time I checked, supporting tax hikes, pork projects, and other liberal policies is not the mark of an economic conservative.”
Replacing Heather: About the time that Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White was announcing his bid Wednesday to seek the GOP nomination for Wilson’s congressional seat, a Democrat, former Health Secretary (and St. Michael’s High School graduate) Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced she’ll be holding a news conference to announce her intention to run for the seat.
One person who is not having a news conference is state Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque. Park said last week that he was considering the race for CD 1. He confirmed Wednesday that he won’t be entering the race. “I’ve got to put family first,” he said. He will, however, run for re-election to the state Legislature, where he chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
So far in that congressional race, Republican candidates include White and possibly state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones of Albuquerque, while Democrats include Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich, former assistant Attorney General Jon Adams and (probably) Grisham.
Bad news from Nevada: Gov. Bill Richardson has said many times that he needs to do well in Nevada to keep his presidential hopes alive. Therefore a new poll from the Silver State by American Research Group has to be extremely disappointing for his campaign.
The poll of 600 Nevada residents likely to participate in the Democratic caucus in January show only 5 percent support Richardson, putting him in a distant fourth place. What’s worse for the governor is this is one point down from the last ARG Nevada poll in June. The poll was taken Friday through Tuesday and has a 4 percent margin of error.
Another ARG poll released Wednesday shows Richardson pulling 7 percent among likely Arizona Democratic primary voters. That poll interviewed 600 likely voters and had a 4 percent margin of error. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton has a wide lead in both states.
Seeing Al Hurricane last week made me realize that the profile I did of him nine years ago hasn't been up on the Internet since my original web site went down several years ago. So what the heck ...
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 7, 1998
It's star time New Mexico style.
The band is pumping a Norteno beat and the audience is warmed up. Literally. It's an outdoor show on a hot afternoon, but nobody seems to mind the sweat and the sun.
"Are you ready for the star of the show?'' the man behind the keyboards asks. The crowd roars in approval.
"Well, sorry. We're not bringing him out yet.'' But the bandleader's smile gives away his little joke. "No, I'm just kidding. Here he is, ladies and gentleman, the star of the show, the Godfather of New Mexico music, and my father, Mr. Al Hurricane!''
The Godfather emerges from his tour bus parked to the left of the stage as all eyes turn to him. He cuts a dashing figure white suit, white shoes, a mop of black curly hair and a face marked by a black eye patch a grim souvenir of a life as a traveling musician turned into a celebratory trademark of a man and his music.
"Orale!" Hurricane shouts, waving his hand in greeting and grinning. Some shout back. Others just clap and cheer louder. By now it's a standing ovation and he hasn't even started.
He basks in the moment. This more than the money, he says is what propels Alberto Nelson Sanchez, the man behind the Hurricane.
For about 40 years Sanchez/Hurricane has been making a living with his music. He owns his own record company, Hurricane Records, which still thrives in the age of the compact disc. In past years his family also owned its own recording studio and nightclub in Albuquerque.
And while the entertainment business is full of stories of careers destroying family relationships, the musician's road seems to have had an opposite effect on the Sanchez clan.
Hurricane has shared the stage with his younger brothers "Tiny Morrie" and "Baby Gaby," who was part of a recent show at Camel Rock Casino. He has seen his son, Al Jr., grow up to become his bandleader, and his nieces and nephews find musical careers of their own. He currently is working with his youngest daughters on what he hopes will turn into a recording project.
But the road has had its share of pain and loss for Hurricane as well.
He lost an eye in an automobile wreck on the way to a gig in Colorado in November 1969.
Both of his marriages ended in divorce, the second one with extremely tragic consequences.
In 1986, soon after his second divorce, his ex-wife's boyfriend killed his 2-year-old daughter. The boyfriend, Ruben Lopez, and Hurricane's ex-wife each were convicted of charges of child abuse resulting in death. Both served time in prison. Hurricane had a heart attack soon after the killing.
But his family, his music and his fans all helped him heal and go on.
The Godfather! ("Don't call me `El Padrino'," he later cautions a reporter. "There's a singer down in Texas who goes by El Padrino.") As the crowd outside of Camel Rock Casino cheers, it's easy to see that the man called Hurricane has won a big spot in their hearts. And you can tell he feels that love. Maybe that's why he doesn't immediately take the stage, but goes right for the center of the crowd.
Holding a wireless microphone, Hurricane sings his first several tunes right there among the people. Between songs he shakes hands with his fans, tells jokes with the men and flirts with the ladies. (Nothing raunchy, mind you. Not far away in the audience is Bennie Sanchez Hurricane's mother). During one song, he dances with a little girl who has come to the show with her parents.
Indeed, it's an all-ages show. As Hurricane finally joins his band on stage and more couples start dancing, you can see many generations. Men and women who look old enough to be the parents of the 61-year-old Hurricane dance next to couples in their teens not to mention small children who scamper about the concert area.
It's an inter-generational gathering on stage also. Hurricane's son, Al Jr., 38, leads the band and is a recording artist in his own right. At the recent Camel Rock gig, two daughters, Erika, 20 and 13-year-old Danielle the twin sister of the girl who was killed sang a few songs. Other sons and daughters have played with him in the past.
Hurricane has been playing music in public since he was younger than Danielle.
He was born in Dixon in 1936, but spent most of his early years in Ojo Sarco. His mother gave him the nickname "Hurricane'' as a child.
"I couldn't reach across the table without spilling a bunch of things and knocking everything over," he said in a recent interview at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque.
The Sanchez family moved to Albuquerque when Al was 9 years old. At first he found himself picked on because of his light complexion and natural blonde hair. (His jet black toupee is one of the worst-kept secrets in New Mexico entertainment circles).
But his music helped him win acceptance. Both his mother and his father, Margarito, who died in 1979, encouraged him in this direction, he said.
As a youngster he worked as a strolling troubadour at restaurants in Albuquerque's Old Town. As a student at Albuquerque High School he formed his own band.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bennie Sanchez began a career of promoting rock shows at the old Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque. Among those who performed were James Brown, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Hurricane said he played with Chubby Checker in Santa Fe at a show his mother produced.
The young Hurricane's group was frequently chosen to open the show for touring national acts and sometimes was hired as a ``pickup'' band for famous singers coming through town without their own backup groups.
This is how Hurricane hooked up with Fats Domino. For a short time he traveled with Domino, though he said he turned down a chance to tour Europe as a part of Domino's band in the early 1960s because he did not want to leave his wife and young children.
Hurricane had married his high school sweetheart Nettie. The couple had four children Al Jr., Darlene, Sandra and Jerry.
Hurricane said he also played some concerts as a guest guitarist with Marvin Gaye's band in the mid-1960s.
While he loved rock and soul music, by the late 1960s he realized "people here were hungry for Latino music."
The Godfather-to-be cut his first album Mi Saxophone in 1967 for a small independent record company. Soon after that, he and his family started Hurricane Records, which produced albums for Hurricane, Tiny Morrie and Baby Gaby, and later Al Jr.
More than 40 albums would be released on vinyl during the next couple of decades. Like other record companies in recent years, Hurricane now only deals in CDs and tapes. Hurricane said he has six of his own albums currently available on CD.
Meantime, brother Morrie and his mother set up a family recording studio on San Mateo Boulevard, purchasing recording gear from Norman Petty Studios in Clovis. "Norman Petty offered us a deal on his Buddy Holley equipment," Hurricane said.
And noticing that there was no venue in Albuquerque for Chicano music, the family bought the Far West nightclub on west Central Avenue.
Thus the Sanchezes became a mini-music industry of their own recording music at their own studio, distributing it on their own label and playing live at their own nightclub.
The family toured quite a bit in those days, mainly through the Western states with cities that had sizable Hispanic communities.
It was on the way to one of those out-of-state gigs that Hurricane lost his right eye.
"It was November First, 1969, in Walsenberg, Colorado,'' Hurricane recalled. "We were in our way up to a show in Denver. I was in a car, there were six of us, band members, you know. We were pulling a trailer with our equipment. Tiny, Gabe and my mom were behind us about two or three hours.''
The car hit an icy bridge and started to slide, Hurricane said. ``It turned over five times and I came out of the driver's side.''
There was a shard of glass stuck in his eye.
Hurricane's wife and children came to the hospital, he said. They got off the elevator as nurses wheeled him by in a gurney, "I heard my wife tell my son, `Look at that poor man. I hope your dad is not in that bad of shape.' My face was so swollen up my own wife didn't recognize me.''
The accident and the new eye patch didn't stop the music. But his first marriage soon came to an end. Hurricane remarried in 1971.
With his new wife, Hurricane had four more children Nelson, Erika and the twins Danielle and Lynnea.
By the early 1980s, Hurricane decided to sell the nightclub and the recording studio.
Tiny Morrie and his family moved to Mexico, where his son Lorenzo Antonio became something of a teen idol. Morrie's daughters would form a Spanish-language pop group called Sparx a few years down the road.
Baby Gaby by this point had decided to quit the music business. He became a postal worker but still performs occasionally.
The mid-1980s became the most horrible time in Hurricane's life the second divorce, the killing of Lynnea, the heart attack, which he says came about due to the stress of losing his little girl.
Lynnea Sanchez was pronounced dead on arrival at University of New Mexico Hospital on Nov. 5, 1986. An autopsy later showed that she died of blunt trauma to the back or the abdomen.
Hurricane's wife, Angela Sanchez, then 34, and her boyfriend Ruben J. Lopez, then 44, were arrested. In September 1987 a jury convicted both of child abuse leading to death.
Lopez was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was released in 1992 and is still on parole. Angela Sanchez was sentenced to six years and served about half her term.
Hurricane said he had no choice but to go on and be strong. "She went to prison and suddenly I had to be the mother and the father of my children, '' Hurricane said. "You know it really touched me. Last Mother's Day my son Nelson called me and said `Happy Mother's Day, Dad. You were my father and mother.' ''
These days Al Hurricane has slowed down. Not nearly as much touring, just a couple of gigs a week. He says he's working on a new album but doesn't want to say when to expect it. "Whenever I say, it would be later,'' he said.
But he still loves the music, still loves the applause, still loves it when a fan interrupts an interview to get an autograph and a kiss.
And the Godfather loves passing his music on to a younger generation. He recalled a recent show at a school in Las Vegas, N.M. The students he said were just as enthusiastic, if not more, than his regular audiences. "They were grabbing me, caressing me, '' he said. "I told the vice principal later that I felt like Elvis Presley. He told me, `You are our Elvis Presley.' "