I am a bit remiss with this post, but … better late than never. On Tuesday, singer Trini Lopez died at age 83 of complications from the coronavirus. Those of you my age (or even older 🦕 ) will likely remember him for his versions of If I Had a Hammer (1963), La Bamba (1963), Guantanamera (1980), and Lemon Tree (1980).
An interesting bit of trivia: Lopez formed his first band in Wichita Falls, Texas, at the age of 15. Around 1955/56 Trini Lopez and his band worked at The Vegas Club, a nightclub owned by Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald.
In late 1962, after Lopez’ contract with King Records expired, he followed up on an offer by producer Snuff Garrett to join the post-Holly Crickets as vocalist. After a few weeks of auditions in Los Angeles, that idea did not go through. He landed a steady engagement at the nightclub PJ’s, where his audience grew quickly. He was heard there by Frank Sinatra, who had started his own label, Reprise Records, and who subsequently signed Lopez.
His debut live album, Trini Lopez at PJ’s, was released in 1963. The album included a version of If I Had a Hammer, which reached number one in 36 countries (#3 in the United States), and was a radio favorite for many years. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Lopez scored 13 chart singles through 1968, including Lemon Tree. Beyond his success on record, he became one of the country’s top nightclub performers of that era, regularly headlining in Las Vegas. In 1969, NBC aired a Trini Lopez variety special featuring surf guitar group The Ventures, and Nancy Ames as guests. The soundtrack, released as The Trini Lopez Show, has him singing his hits with The Ventures as his backing band. Lopez was still recording and appearing live in the years leading up to his death. He took part in a benefit concert to raise money for the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, and appeared as a guest performer in a number of shows held in Maastricht in the Netherlands with the Dutch violinist and composer André Rieu.
Lopez’ popularity led the Gibson Guitar Corporation to ask him in 1964 to design a guitar for them. He ended up designing two: the Trini Lopez Standard, a rock and roll model based on the Gibson ES-335 semihollow body, and the Lopez Deluxe, a variation of a Gibson jazz guitar designed by Barney Kessel. Both of these guitars were in production from 1964 until 1971, and are now highly sought-after among collectors.
- In 1993, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to Lopez.
- He was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
- On May 15, 2008, his 71st birthday, Lopez was inducted into the Las Vegas Walk of Stars.
As I mentioned a few nights ago, I am a lover of Latin music and Trini was one of my favourites, and I couldn’t decide which of my favourites to play for you tonight. So … I decided to give you four to choose from!
R.I.P. Trini Lopez, and thank you for leaving us some beautiful music!