Music Interview: Rocking Like A Hurricane

Al And Al Jr.: A Life In Music

August March
6 min read
Rocking Like a Hurricane
Al Hurricane (Eric Williams)
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Let me be clear. Al Hurricane rocks. He’s the father—officially the Godfather—of a brand of New Mexican music that blends diffuse influences, intense intuition and massive chops into a formidable music expression that has become the stuff of legend as the years have passed. He’s also the father of a cohort of talented children, including son Al Jr.—who’s worked as his primary collaborator, arranger and producer since the late 1970s.

Hurricane came up in northern New Mexico and cut his teeth playing with first generation rockers like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, recording his early work down south at Norman Petty’s famous studio in Clovis. His foray into Spanish music in the ‘60s and his ability to twist through genres nimbly and eloquently set him apart from others in the local music business, leading to a sort of success and resilience that speak to the guitarist’s essential character.

Nowadays he’s this town’s rock star, a superstar who—at nearly 80 years old—continues to play gigs, to lead his band, even as he battles a potent form of cancer.
Weekly Alibi met with the dude and his son a couple days before Christmas came around. We talked about what it means to have a life in music.

Alibi: What’s on your mind right now as you reflect on a lengthy and laudable career?

Al Hurricane: Wherever I go people respect my music, they respect our music. There are musicians here and there who tell me I’m their idol; to them, I am the Godfather. It’s a boon. It keeps my spirits up and that’s important right now. To me and my son, one of the things that makes us happy is the attention we’ve gotten outside of Albuquerque. We never expected that. We’ve played in Malaga, Spain; we did a big show at the beach there I recall. They had bands from all over the world. People in the audience were shouting “Al Hurricane, Al Hurricane” after our set. That still amazes me. I don’t know if I would have ever gotten there without my son, Al Jr.

What do your audiences here and across the globe like to hear you play?

At that concert in Spain, a lady backstage asked me, “Why don’t you just do traditional music, like ‘Cielito Lindo’ and those kind of songs?” I thought, okay, whatever, but then Junior told me, “Dad, just do your show. Start with ‘La Bamba.’” By the end of the set everyone was singing along and dancing. There were more than 8,000 people there, under a full moon on the Mediterranean. It was cool. In Argentina, the same thing happened to us. We started doing some of my songs, like “La Mucura.” Then we did “Johhny B. Goode.” There were 20,000 people out there shouting, “Rocanrol, rocanrol!” They went nuts.

The years have gone by; folks are still shouting and yelling from the audience as they jam to your sound. Some people thought you were going to stop playing last year due to illness, but somehow the beat goes on, right?

Al Hurricane, Jr.:
When we started my father’s farewell tour back in April, I told my dad that we should say goodbye to the people who’ve supported us for so long … he had stage four prostate cancer after all. But with all the prayers, support and love we’ve received from our fans, my father has been able to continue and stay strong. People have been crying when they see him sing lately; it’s a very emotional thing. It’s miraculous. The cancer in his body is effectively gone.

Al Hurricane: It’s like anything else in life. I had an accident in 1969 and lost my right eye, but that didn’t stop me. I had two heart attacks and fixed that. Now, prostate cancer. But I can’t quit. I get a little tired sometimes. I’m not playing too much guitar on stage right now unless someone asks me to. But I am hamming it up. I love to sing. Junior is handling the band, he does a great job. He’s directing, writing, producing the music. All I have to do is get up on stage and say, “Here I am!” I get nervous if I don’t play the guitar, but I am very happy to be able to sing and perform. By the way, it takes two guys to replace me on guitar. One plays country, the other rock.

How has the ongoing father and son collaboration contributed to your success and staying power?

Al Hurricane, Jr.: My dad continues to evolve. He appeals to younger audiences because he has an intuitive ability to communicate across boundaries. That works with me too. He gives me ideas about what he wants to do and I start playing stuff on the piano, humming melodies out loud so he can hear me. We go back and forth like that and it comes together.

Al Hurricane: Family is important to us, family life inspires our music. Having my mom as our manager was something else. My dad was there for us too, both of them traveling with us all over the country. The songs make a difference too. Some guys stick to the same repertoire; but with us, we’ll pick from all sorts of genres. Rock and roll, country, cumbia, even Hawaiian music. I listen to everything. There was even a time when we were playing stuff like “In the Mood,” songs from the
Great American Song Book. I really like doing that, mixing things up.

Al Hurricane, Jr.: My dad speaks Italian too. He listens to Pavarotti. He does a great rendition of “Volare.”
(At this point in the interview, Hurricane sings the first few lines of “Volare,” deeply, with a resonating voice and excellent pronunciation.)

My dad went to Italy with a friend of ours. My friend told me that everywhere he went where there was a piano, my dad would sit down and start playing. And a crowd would always gather around him. It’s in his nature.

Al Hurricane and Al Hurricane Junior play the New Year’s Bash at Caravan East (7605 Central NE) on Thursday, Dec. 31. Admission is $25-30. The two legendary performers take the stage at 8:30pm.

Rocking Like a Hurricane

Eric Williams

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