1960s-era singer was in ‘Dirty Dozen,’ died of coro­n­avirus at 83

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION/WORLD - BY RUSSELL CONTRERAS AND HIL­LEL ITALIE

RIO RAN­CHO, N.M. — Trini Lopez, a singer and gui­tarist who gained fame for his ver­sions of “Le­mon Tree” and “If I Had a Ham­mer” in the 1960s and took his tal­ents to Hol­ly­wood, died Tues­day. He was 83.

Film­maker P. David Eber­sole, who just fin­ished shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary on Mr. Lopez with Todd Hughes, con­firmed that Mr. Lopez died from com­pli­ca­tions of COVID-19 at Desert Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia.

Busi­ness part­ner and mu­si­cian Joe Chavira said he and Mr. Lopez just fin­ished record­ing a song “If By Now,” a tune meant to raise money for food banks dur­ing COVID-19. “And here he is dy­ing of some­thing he was try­ing to fight,” Chavira said.

Mr. Lopez crossed over into act­ing, ap­pear­ing in the World War II drama “The Dirty Dozen,” the com­edy “The Ph­ynx” and cred­its on tele­vi­sion’s “Adam-12.” He also de­signed gui­tars that be­came a fa­vorite of Dave Grohl and other rock stars.

Men­tored by Buddy Holly and Frank Si­na­tra, Mr. Lopez be­came an in­ter­na­tional star while performing in English and Span­ish. Un­like Mex­i­can Amer­i­can singers such as Ritchie Valens, Mr. Lopez re­jected ad­vice to change his name and openly em­braced his Mex­i­can Amer­i­can her­itage de­spite warn­ings it would hurt his ca­reer.

“I in­sisted on keep­ing my name Lopez,” he told The Dal­las Morn­ing News in 2017. “I’m proud to be a Lopez. I’m proud to be a Mex­i­cano.”

Born Trinidad Lopez III to im­mi­grants from Gua­na­ju­ato, Mex­ico, Mr. Lopez grew up in Dal­las’ poor, Lit­tle Mex­ico neigh­bor­hood. The fam­ily’s dire eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion forced Mr. Lopez to drop out of high school and work.

His life changed af­ter his fa­ther bought him a $12 black Gib­son acous­tic gui­tar from a pawn shop. His fa­ther taught him how to play the in­stru­ment, which led the young Lopez to per­form at Dal­las night­clubs that didn’t al­low Mex­i­can Amer­i­can pa­trons.

Buddy Holly saw Mr. Lopez at a small night­club in Wi­chita Falls, Texas, and in­tro­duced him to Nor­man Petty, his record pro­ducer in Clo­vis, New Mex­ico. Holly died in a plane crash six months later, and Mr. Lopez briefly re­placed him as lead singer of The Crick­ets.

Mr. Lopez moved to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and got a reg­u­lar gig at P.J.’s Night Club in West Hol­ly­wood. Si­na­tra saw him per­form and of­fered him a con­tract with his new record la­bel, Reprise, where Mr. Lopez got his first ma­jor hit with “If I Had A Ham­mer.” It went to No. 1 in nearly 40 coun­tries.

They be­came friends and were spot­ted to­gether reg­u­larly in so­cial cir­cles in Las Ve­gas and Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia.

His de­but al­bum, “Trini Lopez at PJ’s,” reached the top 10 in 1963.

“Trini used to say he came to Cal­i­for­nia, broke and in a sta­tion wagon. He’d thanked Si­na­tra for ‘dis­cov­er­ing him’,” Chavira said. “Si­na­tra said, ‘no, it was meant to be.”

SUN-TIMES LI­BRARY

Trini Lopez was no­ticed by Buddy Holly at a small Texas club.

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