Tom Gutierrez coaches tennis at Rio Rancho High School and performs as a musician. He’s opening for comedian Jay Leno next month.
(Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

Don’t stop believing” will likely be Tom Gutierrez’s opening number as he prepares the crowd at Isleta Resort and Casino on Friday, Sept. 13, for the stand-up comedy of Jay Leno.

In no particular order, his 2019 chapter has included the final performance of “Lenin and McCarthy” at the Corrales Bistro in early May — music partner Rob Martinez was promoted from deputy state historian to state historian and had to say goodbye — nailing down the opening-act gig for Leno, playing weekly as a solo act on the Rio Grande Lounge Patio at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort, attending the 30th reunion of the Cibola High Class of 1989, and being named the varsity boys tennis coach at Rio Rancho High School.

He’s, happily, a musician, teacher and coach

Growing up in nearby Alameda, Gutierrez loved the music of Van Halen, although that band’s hits “Panama” and “Jump” were hard to re-enact on the trumpet, which he played until he was in eighth grade.

“I wanted to be a professional touring musician,” he says of an early ambition.

During his days at Cibola High School, he was on the varsity wrestling team of coach Joe Vivian.

His music career got a lift when he was in the military and his band won a talent show and small cash prize while he was stationed in Hawaii. He’s been in bands ever since and has performed in front of larger crowds than he expects to see with Leno.

“I had like 10,000 at Balloon Fiesta Park (when he was with the band Rock Candy), big crowds at the zoo (with the Mariachi Mystery Tour) and I opened at the state fair several years ago,” he said, welcoming people who want to hear his work to check out the major online platforms (YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Amazon, iTunes).

Gutierrez, who says Leno is “an interesting guy,” recalled getting a call in early 2019, asking if he’d be interested in this opportunity. He said “yes,” but because it was tentative, didn’t lose any sleep over it.

A few months later, it became a confirmed date — once Leno and his staff had OK’d him.

Besides “Don’t Stop Believing,” Gutierrez hasn’t completed his play list for his 25- to 30-minute warm-up.

“I’ve been fiddling around with it,” he said, knowing his standbys — hits from his wheelhouse of the ‘70s and ‘80s — will be included. That means stuff from the Eagles, Styxx and Journey, “in that vein,” he says, and no requests.

“As you’ve gotten older, your tastes mature,” he explained, so don’t expect any Van Halen hits at Isleta. “I enjoy playing solo. (With the exit of Martinez), my set list tripled — I knew a ton of songs we weren’t playing.”

In addition to anticipating some nervousness maybe a half-hour before he takes the stage, although he knows it’ll disappear once he fingers the first note on his guitar, he’ll be several weeks deep into his job at Rio Rancho Cyber Academy. There, he monitors about a dozen classes, teaches social studies and is often on hand for mentoring or tutoring.

He’s also looking forward to coaching tennis again — he’d been the varsity girls tennis coach at RRHS until a few seasons ago and found he missed it.

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life; I got into coaching late,” he said. “It seems the things I do well lend themselves to teaching.”

You can learn more about the Leno show online; tickets start at $50 for the 21-and-older show.

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