Trini Lopez Dead At 83

Peter Bischoff/Getty Images

Trini Lopez Dead At 83

Peter Bischoff/Getty Images

Trini Lopez, the hitmaking folk-pop musician, has died. The New York Times reports that Lopez died yesterday at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California from complications of COVID-19. Lopez was 83.

Lopez grew up in the Little Mexico neighborhood of Dallas. His father was a musician and entertainer who made his living doing manual labor. When Lopez was 11, his father bought him a cheap guitar and taught him to play. Lopez, a high-school dropout, formed his first band in the early ’50s, when he was a teenager. By the mid-’50s, he was playing the Vegas Club, the Dallas nightclub owned by Jack Ruby. Lopez’s band the Big Beats released a few early instrumental rock ‘n’ roll records on Columbia in the late ’50s. Eventually, Lopez went solo, released singles for King Records, and joined the Crickets as their new frontman after the death of Buddy Holly.

In the early ’60s, Lopez had a residency at PJ’s, a nightclub in Los Angeles. Frank Sinatra heard Lopez playing, and he signed Lopez to his new label Reprise Records. Live At PJ’s, Lopez’s 1963 debut album, became an international sensation. It included Lopez’s biggest hit, a sprightly version of the Pete Seeger/Lee Hays folk standard “If I Had A Hammer.” Lopez’s version peaked at #3 in the US and charted around the world. In 1964, Gibson designed two guitars for Gibson, the Trini Lopez Standard and the Lopez Deluxe, which are now prized among guitar collectors.

Lopez kept making hits through the ’60s, including 1966’s “Lemon Tree,” a version of the Brazilian folk song. Lopez’s big hits were mostly well-known folk standards that had previously been recorded by people like Peter, Paul And Mary, but Lopez’s versions were rhythmic and uptempo, and they drew on Mexican folk and dance music.

After his star dimmed in the ’70s, Lopez continued to tour regularly, especially in Europe. He also dabbled in acting, most famously as one of the rebellious servicemen in the 1967 smash The Dirty Dozen. Check out some of his work below.

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