Throughout history, many influential musicians were born in the Land of Enchantment, a.k.a. New Mexico. Their talents range from playing the guitar to saxophone to flute, and many more.
You may be surprised to learn that some of your favorite music artists hail from the state of white sands, roadrunners, and Roswell UFOs. Continue reading to get to know 10 of the greatest and most famous musicians from New mexico!
1. John Denver
On December 31, 1943, Roswell, New Mexico, saw the birth of singer-songwriter Henry John Deustchendorf Jr. Who is this guy? You know him as John Denver, creator of two state songs and acoustic guitarist who played in the folk rock and country genres.
Born as the oldest son of a military family, he often had to move around and make new friends; he found solace in music wherever he could until he grew old enough to drive to California to begin producing music.
Denver joined several bands before kickstarting his solo career, and by the time of his untimely death in 1997, he had produced a number of signature songs—including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Annie’s Song,” among many others—and several charting albums.
2. Randy Castillo
Drummer Randy Castillo was born on December 18, 1950, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Early in life, he was inspired by the Beatles and formed his first band, the Wumblies, soon after.
After being introduced to Ozzy Osbourne, who by chance was looking for a drummer at a party, he was hired and stayed with Ozzy for ten years, recording five albums. In 1999, Castillo became the drummer for the heavy metal and hard rock band Mötley Crüe.
Each of the albums Castillo created with the bands have sold millions of copies worldwide. Sadly, he passed away in 2002 after losing a bout with cancer.
3. Ryan Bingham
From Hobbs, New Mexico, we have next the singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Bingham. This talented musician is able to play the guitar, harmonica, and keyboard, though he is more notable in performing with the first.
His mom bought him a guitar at 16 years old, which planted the seeds of a music career in his mind. Later, he would make self-released albums of playing guitar until he gained a following, allowing him to get multiple songs on the Billboard charts.
Bingham’s work has won him several awards, including a Best Original Song Academy Award and a Best Song Written for Visual Media Grammy for the song “The Weary Kind” of the film Crazy Heart.
4. Lorenzo Antonio
Latin singer Lorenzo Antonio was born on October 3, 1969, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He rose to prominence as a Latin pop artist in the 1980s and 1990s.
He started showing interest in music at the age of five and quickly learned to play the guitar. Antonio also studied other instruments, like the cello, piano, banjo, and fiddle. By age 12, he kickstarted his career by joining a talent festival in which he won and gained himself a record contract.
He first began performing with his sisters, playing the fiddle or guitar, but soon became a solo artist. Since then, Antonio has wracked up many hit songs that managed to peak on the top 10 or top 20 of the Latin Billboard charts, including “Buscare” and “El No Te Quiere.”
5. Bobby Shew
Next up, we have another musician from Albuquerque. Born on March 4, 1941, Bobby Shew initially played the guitar before he turned to focus on the trumpet at 10.
After being drafted into the US Army, he lived in Las Vegas, where he played for pop stars and big bands, specializing in the trumpet and the flugelhorn.
Shew became a legendary figure in the jazz and big band communities to the point that he has mentored many jazz musicians and led the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. His career led him to teach students in high school workshops and in leading European music schools.
6. Tim Pierce
Yet another musician from Albuquerque we have guitarist Tim Pierce. Unlike other guitarists on this list who have solo careers, Pierce is notable for playing in recording sessions of other well-known artists and groups, including Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, Phil Collins, and Johnny Hallyday.
Pierce’s career has spanned over six decades that began in 1974. It peaked during his time with Rick Springfield. Hit songs that he’s sessioned on are rhythm guitar in “Black or White” (Michael Jackson), slide guitar and mandolin in “Iris” (Goo Goo Dolls), and guitar in “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Crowded House).
Currently, Pierce also runs a YouTube channel where he teaches viewers his tricks, getting a top-charting song and collaborating with other artists.
7. Al Hurricane
Alberto Nelson Sanchez—best known as Al Hurricane—was born on July 10, 1936, in Dixon, New Mexico. Sanchez had a long musical career that started when he was only 12.
He learned to play guitar at a young age and started playing in Albuquerque restaurants until he was old enough to release his first songs. He is also skillful in playing the saxophone and piano.
Sanchez did not stick to just one genre. His music is a mix of Latin, jazz, rock, western, and so many others, which helped him earn the title Godfather of New Mexico Music. “Sentimiento” and “La Leyenda” are among his songs worth listening.
Sadly, the musician passed away in 2017 due to prostate cancer. He was 81. Soon after, articles from different publications and institutions, like The New York Times and Smithsonian Institute, were released, honoring Sanchez’s legacy.
8. Al Hurricane Jr.
Al Hurricane had several children, and a few became musicians. Most notable among them is his namesake, Al Hurricane Jr., also known as the Godson of New Mexico Music or the Godfather’s Son.
Like his father, Junior Hurricane learned the guitar young and went on to learn the piano and trumpet. By the time he was in his teens, he was already performing live, with a focus on sounds blending New Mexico music, rock, country, and Latin, among others.
Before his father passed away, Junior played and toured with his father’s group, the Hurricane Band. Today, he mostly performs live with them all over the US, but he is best known for his song “Flor De Las Flores.”
9. Robert Mirabal
He was traditionally taught music by his family and started making flutes at school and found he had an affinity for many instruments, including drums, clarinets, and saxophones.
He decided to stick with the traditional flute he loved and found a voice in New Mexico music that allowed him to travel the world and eventually catapult himself into worldwide success, working alongside other artists, like Mark Andes, Bill Miller, and Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma.
Many of his works have brought much attention to Native American flutes, especially Land, his third album. The entire recording is a story about surviving in harsh conditions with haunting, earthen music.
10. Lenny Pickett
Last but not least, we have a musician talented with woodwind instruments. A notable clarinetist and flutist, Lenny Pickett from Las Cruces, New Mexico, is most known for his skills on the saxophone, particularly the altissimo register.
During the 1970s, he was with Tower of Power, an R&B and session band, leading their horn section before separating in 1981. A few years after this, Pickett joined the band of TV program Saturday Night Live, who provided the live music during the show.
Ten years after joining the Saturday Night Live Band, Pickett was promoted to the music director, and he has stayed in that position since. He also teaches jazz saxophone at New York University.
Summing Up Our List Of New Mexican Musicians
We are thankful to New Mexico for all the musical talent it has produced to benefit the music landscape of America and the rest of the world. Without New Mexico musicians, we would have a greatly diminished scene in modern music and a less rich history to celebrate.
We hope you enjoyed our list of great New Mexican musicians. There are so many that our list could not fit them all. Who have we left out? Let us know, and we’ll add them for you.