Trini Lopez arrives at Schiphol Airport, for a performace at the Grand Gala Du Discque Populaire 1963. (Source: Wikipedia)
A short introduction
Trini Lopez is a guitarist and singer who’s best known for his upbeat version of the folk standard “If I Had A Hammer”, with a distinct Latin flavor. The Dallas, Texas native was already a fixture at night clubs in Las Vegas, Nevada before he was discovered by record producder Don Costa. Costa then signed him up on the Reprise Records. Under the label Lopez scored a string of hits, mostly his upbeat covers of prior popular hits: “If I Had A Hammer”, “Lemon Tree”, “La Bamba” etc. He has also acted in few films and TV shows, but that didn’t deter his singing career — which sees him having achieved 13 chart singles, and 15 easy listening hits.
Early life and career
Trini Lopez was born Trinidad Lopez III in Dallas, Texas on May 15, 1937. Of Mexican heritage, he and his family settled in the city’s Little Mexico area.
Having a passion for music, Lopez formed his first band The Big Beats when he was just in his teens. Lopez and his band also got to be managed by Buddy Holly and Crickets’ producer Norman Petty, from the recommendation of Holly himself.
Lopez and The Big Beats started to cut records for Columbia Records, most notably the instrumentals “Clark’s Expedition” and “Big Boy.” Soon Lopez went solo, recording for a local label in Dallas Volk Records, and then to King Records, without much success. He also auditioned unsuccessfully for the lead singer slot for the Crickets, who tried to move on after Holly’s tragic death in 1959.
Popular performer at PJ’s
Lopez decided to return to performing, and luckily enough he secured a regular gig spot at a ritzy Santa Monica, Ca. jazz nightclub called PJ’s (now Starwood Club). It was in that nightclub where Lopez found his audience, and he became one of PJ’s stellar performers.
A hit live album
Frank Sinatra — or some sources say his longtime producer Don Costa — who had just established his own label Reprise Records, also happened to be at PJ’s one night. He heard Lopez performing, and soon Sinatra signed him to his imprint.
Trini’s debut album was a live album, Trini Lopez at PJ’s, which was also helmed by Don Costa. During the recording of the album, inside the club was heavily miked to include the crowd reaction on the record, in order to get the “live” essence and experience for the album as Sinatra wanted.
On Trini Lopez at PJ’s, Lopez covered mostly popular folk, pop, and R&B songs in his own upbeat, Latin-flavored rendition. The tracks on the LP include “A-me-ri-ca,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “What’d I Say,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “La Bamba,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Volare,” and his first hit “If I Had a Hammer.” His cheerful-sounding cover of the Peter, Paul and Mary hit even fared better on the charts than the original did, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went to #12 on the R&B singles chart, and #4 on the UK singles chart.
Despite “If I Had a Hammer” being Lopez’s only Top Ten pop hit, he recorded prolifically for Reprise for much of the 1960s. He racked up many hits especially on the adult contemporary department: “Kansas City,” (which also reached at #23 on the pop chart) “Michael,” “Lemon Tree” (#20 pop), “Sad Tomorrows,” “Are You Sincere,” “Sinner Man,” “I’m Comin’ Home, Cindy” (#39 pop), “La Bamba,” “The Bramble Bush,” “Gonna Get Along Ya’Now,” “Malaguena Salerosa,” and “Sally Was A Good Old Girl.”
Lopez also tried his hand at acting — most notably appearing in the 1967 popular movie The Dirty Dozen — but it was no match for his successful singing and recording career. Attempting to broaden his range, he even released a country music record and then a disco album.
Trini toured extensively in the US, Latin America and Europe, and hosted his own television show, and has done a lot of charitable work. He has received many awards and honors such as induction to the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and a couple of stars from Palm Springs Walk of Stars and Las Vegas Walk of Stars. He continues to perform up to this day.