Trini Lopez gained fame as a pop singer and guitarist whose versions of “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer” in the 1960’s would propel him to Hollywood fame. Lopez also acted in the Robert Aldrich film “The Dirty Dozen.” Sadly, we have learned that he has died on Tuesday August 11th, from COVID-19.
Filmmaker P. David Ebersole, who had just finished completing a documentary on Lopez with Todd Hughes, had confirmed Lopez had died from complications from the coronavirus at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California.
His buisness partner Joe Chavira said this about Lopez:
Lopez had just finished the recording for a song “If By Now” to raise money for food banks during the COVID pandemic. “And here he is dying of something he was trying to fight,” Chavira stated. A very brave battle against the virus we might add. Chivalry was also not only a buisness partner to Lopez, but he himself was also a musician like Lopez.
Lopez showed us all his amazing acting ability starring in the legendary World War II drama film “The Dirty Dozen” and the comedy “The Phynx.” He also appeared on television’s “Adam-12.”
His talent didn’t stop on the big screen or behind the microphone. Lopez was also a talented musical designer as he designed guitars for the Foo-Fighters Dave Krohl and many other rock stars.
Lopez was mentored by musical icons such as Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, on his way to becoming an internationally recognized star, while performing in both English and Spanish. This was different from what the other Mexican-American singers were doing at the time. In fact, Lopez refused to change his name and openly embraced his Mexican-American heritage despite warnings from others that this would hurt his career.
Lopez told the Dallas Morning News in an interview back in 2017. “I’m proud to be a Lopez. I’m proud to be a Mexicano.”
Trini Lopez Bio.
He was born Trinidad Lopez III to immigrants from Guanajuato, Mexico. Lopez had grown up in Dallas’ poor, Little Mexico neighborhood. The Lopez family’s dire economic situation forced Lopez to drop out of his high school and work.
His life would change forever when after his father brought him a $12 black Gibson acoustic guitar from a pawn shop. His father taught Trini to play the instrument, which would lead him to play in nightclubs in Dallas.
Buddy Holly took notice of Lopez talent.
Lopez caught the attention of early rock n roll legend Buddy Holly, when he took notice of Lopez performing at a nightclub in Wichita Falls, Texas. Then Holly introduced Lopez to his record producer Norman Petty based in Clovis, New Mexico. Holly would tragically die in a plane crash six months later, and Lopez briefly replaced him as the lead singer for Holly’s group The Crickets.
Lopez then moved to Southern California where he got a regular gig at P.J. Night Club in West Hollywood. Frank Sinatra saw him perform at a show there, and offered the singer a contract with his new record label, Reprise, where Lopez got his first major hit with “If I, Had A Hammer.” It went to number 1 in nearly 40 countries.
Sinatra and Lopez became friends and were spotted together regularly in many social circles in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, California.
His debut album, “Trini Lopez at PJ,” reached the top 10 in 1963, and he quickly found success in the Spanish-language market with “The Latin Album” and “The Second Latin Album.” Trini Lopez was the rare Latino in the rock and folk music world at the time, he would speak often about resisting pressure from record executives to change his name and appeal more to white audiences.
Lopez received a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 1963 and by early 1964 he was in such demand that he and The Beatles were co-headliners during an 18-day engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. This was just before the band traveled to the US to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and upend the careers of Lopez and many others.
“The French newspapers would say ‘Bravo Trini Lopez! Who are The Beatles?” Lopez later told the website Classic Bands, “When we finished doing the shows, the last night we were there, reporters came to my dressing room. My dressing room was next to theirs and they said Mr. Lopez, The Beatles are leaving tommorrow for New York. Do you think they’ll be a hit? I said I don’t think so.”
“Trini used to say he came to California, broke and in a station wagon. He’d thanked Sinatra for ‘discovering him,” Chivara said. “Sinatra said no, it was meant to be.”
Lopez was rarely on the charts after the 1960’s, but it was his line of Gibson Trini Lopez guitars that were released from 1964 to 1971 that unexpectedly influenced a generation of younger guitarists, that included Dave Grohl, the Edge, and Noel Gallagher.
Ebersole and Hughes completed shooting a documentary on the singer and actor called “My Lopez” which is due to be released in 2021.
We extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to Lopez’s family and friends.
RIP Trini Lopez, you will be greatly missed. But your contributions to music and film live on.