Trini Lopez Exclusive: Rock & Folk Pioneer Celebrates 50th Anniversary of ‘Trini Lopez At PJ’S’
By Ray Shasho
-Interviewed November 14th 2014
Trini Lopez is an international music legend best known for recording classic covers and converting them into danceable songs by adding his own special spin and flavor. Lopez not only makes those notable tunes danceable, but he usually outsells all other artists who have also covered those songs including the recordings by the original songwriters.
Born in Dallas, Texas, his Father Trinidad Lopez II was a singer, dancer, actor, and musician in Mexico. Trini’s parents moved to Dallas when his dad was eighteen seeking a better life. Trini learned to play guitar from his father and played for money on street corners. He eventually began performing in clubs around the affluent parts of Dallas. Lopez even performed at a club owned by the notorious Jack Ruby.
A true rock and roll visionary … Lopez uncannily wrote and recorded a song called “The Right to Rock” released on a small label called Volk Records in 1958. After hearing the single, King Records offered Trini a three year contract. The only chart hit for Lopez on the King Records label was a Skyliners cover called “Since I Don’t Have You,” Trini’s rendition reached #10 on the Cashbox and Billboard charts.
After one of Trini’s performances Lopez met with another Texan, rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly. Holly tried to help Trini by inviting him to meet with his record producer in Clovis, New Mexico. Lopez became great friends with Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Holly was killed in a plane crash along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper on February 3rd 1959. Several months after the crash, Lopez received a phone call to come out to Hollywood, California to become the new lead singer of The Crickets.
The Crickets plans never materialized and Lopez took a job at the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills. The one year run led to a historic engagement at the famous PJ’S nightclub. It was at PJ’S where Lopez landed his big break. Frank Sinatra took notice of Trini’s one-man act and had Don Costa offer him an eight year recording contract on Sinatra’s label Reprise Records. Trini’s first two albums were recorded live at PJ’S and successfully launched an incredible music and acting career for the impending international superstar.
Trini’s most recognizable Hit Singles … “If I Had a Hammer” (#3 Billboard U.S. Hit-1963 -Reached #1 in 36 countries), “I'm Coming Home Cindy” (#39 Billboard Hit-1966), “Michael, (#42 Billboard Hit-1964), “Lemon Tree” (#20 Billboard Hit-1965) “Kansas City” (#23 Billboard Hit-1963), “America,” “La Bamba”(1966) “Gonna Get Along With Out Ya’ Now” (1967), and The Bramble Bush (1967) to name just a few.
(Trini’s music was also spotlighted on various soundtracks including... Apollo 13, Born on the Fourth of July and numerous others).
Trini Lopez acting career …
Marriage on the Rocks (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Phynx (1970), The Reluctant Heroes (TV Movie -1971), Adam-12 (TV Series 1971-1972), Antonio (1973), The Mystery of the Silent Scream (1977), The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (TV Series 1977).
Trini Lopez incredible string of TV appearances …
The Greatest Ever War Films (TV Movie documentary) 2014, Trini Lopez Presents Latin Music Legends (TV Movie) 2009, American High School (Video) 2009, Armed and Deadly: The Making of 'The Dirty Dozen' (Video documentary short) 2006, The Best of Music Flashback Television Shows: Featuring Music Scene and Hullabaloo (Video documentary short) 2001, Refrescante 95 (TV Series) 1995, Prima Donnas 1995, Querida Concha (TV Series) 1993, ,Musikladen (TV Series) 1981, A Gift of Music (TV Movie) 1981, Sha Na Na (TV Series) 1978, 1971-1976 The Mike Douglas Show (TV Series), 1976 Celebration: The American Spirit (TV Movie), 1975 Rock on with 45 (TV Series), 1970-1974 The Merv Griffin Show (TV Series), Caesar's Palace Week from Las Vegas (1974), 1972-1974 Stand Up and Cheer (TV Series)
1965-1973 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (TV Series), 1971-1972 The David Frost Show (TV Series),1970 The Dick Cavett Show (TV Series), 1970 Playboy After Dark (TV Series), 1968-1970 The Carol Burnett Show (TV Series),1967-1969 The Joey Bishop Show (TV Series),1968 The Song Is You (TV Movie), 1967 Operation Dirty Dozen (Short documentary),1967 Spotlight (TV Series),1967 The London Palladium Show (TV Series),1967 The Dean Martin Show (TV Series),1966-1967 The Andy Williams Show (TV Series),1967 Gypsy (TV Series),1966 The Jack Benny Hour (TV Movie),1966 Hippodrome (TV Series) Host
1966 Danger Grows Wild, 1966 The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show (TV Series),1965-1966 Hullabaloo (TV Series)(Host), 1965 Marriage on the Rocks, 1965 What's My Line? (TV Series) - Mystery Guest, 1964-1965 The Ed Sullivan Show (TV Series), 1964-1965 The Hollywood Palace (TV Series), 1964 The Bob Hope Show (TV Series),1964 The Bob Hope Thanksgiving Special (TV Special), 1963 Celebrity Party (TV Movie)
The Gibson guitar company asked Trini Lopez to design a guitar for them in 1964. The Trini Lopez Standard, a rock and roll model based on the Gibson ES-335 semi-hollow body, and the Lopez Deluxe, a variation of a Gibson jazz guitar designed by Barney Kessel. Both were in production from 1964 until 1971 and are highly sought out collector items. Some owners of the guitar include Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Noel Gallagher of Oasis.
TODAY … Trini Lopez and Exhibit Records announced the release of a Special 50th Anniversary Numbered Limited Edition of ‘TRINI LOPEZ AT PJ’S The 200 gram vinyl record is beautifully presented in a sturdy old style gatefold jacket featuring the original album art work and for the first time includes the lyrics to all the tunes. The back of each album is foil-stamped with its unique number, and available to purchase
Track listing: Side One: A-me-ri-ca, If I Had a Hammer, Bye Bye Blackbird, Cielito Lindo, This Land Is Your Land, What'd I Say Side Two: La Bamba, Granada, MEDLEY: Gotta Travel On, Down by the Riverside, Marianne, When the Saints Go Marching In, Volare, Unchain My Heart.
Trini Lopez - guitar, vocals Mickey Jones - drums Dick Brant - bass guitar
Producer: Don Costa Recorded at PJ'S nightclub, West Hollywood, California
‘TRINI LOPEZ AT PJ’S reached #2 on the Billboard charts and remained on the Top 40 for over a year.
Also watch for a NEW RELEASE entitled ‘TRIPLE PLAY’ featuring the legendary Trini Lopez, David Somerville from ‘The Diamonds’ and Maurice Williams of ‘The Zodiacs.’ Available very soon! Watch for the release on Trini’s official website www.trinilopez.com
Trini Lopez is also planning to release a CD featuring all original compositions.
I had the rare and very pleasant opportunity to chat with Trini Lopez recently about … The 50th Anniversary of ‘Trini Lopez at PJ’S’ …Buddy Holly … King Records … The Crickets …Don Costa … Signing with Sinatra …The Dirty Dozen … And much-much more!
Here’s my latest interview with the legendary singer, musician, songwriter, actor, and one of the most exciting and recognized entertainers worldwide …TRINI LOPEZ
Ray Shasho: Hello Trini, thank you for being on the call today from beautiful Palm Springs, California. Let’s first talk about your latest release … A Special 50th Anniversary Numbered Limited Edition album entitled … ‘Trini Lopez at PJ’S.’ This legendary live recording was #2 on the Billboard charts, first released in 1963, and produced by the legendary Don Costa. It also stayed in the Top 40 for over a year.
Trini Lopez: “Yes, I cannot believe that my very first album that I ever did in my life just happens to be after all these years my best seller. So I guess Exhibit Records wanted to jump on the bandwagon and they re-released that album, ‘Trini Lopez at PJ’S’… I was really surprised!”
Ray Shasho: It was such a popular and best-selling album that you followed it up with ‘More Trini Lopez at PJ’S.’
Trini Lopez: “Don Costa, Frank Sinatra’s conductor and arranger on so many great albums … at that time he was riding high with Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Barbara Streisand, Steve and Eydie and on and on. So he was also my producer on those live albums.
Ray Shasho: What was it like getting signed on Sinatra’s label, Reprise Records?
Trini Lopez: “I wanted to work at PJ’S from where I was working at the time at a little nightclub in Beverly Hills called the Ye Little Club; it was an English pub and a real elegant place. I was booked for two weeks and stayed a year. I kept hearing about PJ’S and the reason I was excited about one day working there was because I heard that Sinatra went there all the time with all of his buddies. People like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen and all these big stars of the day. When I used to work at the Ye Little Club, I did have a lot of stars come in but they were the young Hollywood. People like Connie Stevens, Robert Conrad and a lot of people who had TV series and were on their way up the ladder of success.”
“I kept hearing about the higher Hollywood Echelon who used to go to PJ’S and when I heard that Sinatra used to go in there I thought… Oh God, I’ve got to work there. So when I finished my year engagement at the Ye Little Club they wanted me to work at PJ’S. I created a big following in Hollywood and so I was very popular there. So they hired me for three months at PJ’S and I stayed a year and a half … all by myself, just me and my guitar. I used to work from 9-2 in the morning; I did four shows and never repeated a song, four hours of singing. I never got a sore throat or got sick by the grace of God. Sinatra started coming in and I was so excited to see him in person and in those days was too shy to even get close or talk to him. After Sinatra came in and saw me about three or four times, he sent Don Costa to talk to me.”
“Don Costa was one of his main record producers for Reprise Records. So Don Costa introduced himself to me and said Trini, I’m here on behalf of Reprise Records. I said oh my God Sinatra’s label. He said yea, you know the label? The reason Don Costa was so surprised that I knew the label was because Sinatra had Reprise at that time for a year or a little longer and had Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., and everybody on the label, but they weren’t selling any records. So I guess they were looking for new blood. Don Costa said we’d like to record you here and I was very surprised. I said not in a studio? He said no we’d like to record you here. I said may I ask why? He said because we want to put on wax all of the excitement that you are creating here at PJ’S. I said that makes a lot sense … well okay. Don Costa came back a couple of times, and the second time he came over to talk to me about signing me up. He said we’d like to give you an eight year recording contract; nowadays you’re lucky if you get a one album deal. And even in those days it was still unheard of. So we recorded the album and it was a smash. I had “If I had a Hammer” on the album which became a #1 hit in thirty eight countries, and then “La Bamba,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and all these songs. So the album was out for about five months or so and became a big hit all over the world, I thought I could just become famous only in America (All laughing). So Don Costa said we’ve got to do another album here, I said Don you told me we could go in the studio … and he said we’ll do one more here because your album is such a hit. So they called it ‘More Trini Lopez at PJ’S.’ That album had songs like “Kansas City” and all kinds of hits again. So right after that second live album I started recording in a studio.”
Ray Shasho: What was so amazing about the success of those two live albums … not only was 1963 a turbulent time for America, but your version of “If I Had A Hammer” did better than Peter, Paul & Mary’s rendition of 1962, and then you topped them again with your cover of “Lemon Tree” in 1965. You also had to deal with The Beatles and the British Invasion beginning to make their presence.
Trini Lopez: “People ask me all the time why did you record those songs and I always say because I liked them. I like the lyrics; the melodies, and the message, songs had messages in those days especially in folk music. The only reason I did them is because I liked them. The thing I did different was to put my own spin on those songs, and that I give myself credit for. I not only made those songs listenable, but I made them danceable too. Making songs danceable helped me a lot. After I left PJ’S I began travelling the world and every Discotheque back in those days were not only playing my songs, they were also playing the album all the way through, front and back”
Ray Shasho: I know you are very proud of your Mexican heritage, but you were actually born in Dallas, Texas?
Trini Lopez: “When I was growing up in Dallas and playing in restaurants and this and that, I was approached by this guy that said … Hey kid I saw you do your show and I liked you, I always had my own little combo, so he said I have my own record company here in Dallas, and I was real excited, I was about 15-16 years old. I walked into his office and he was behind this big desk with a big cigar in his mouth and said kid you’re good, I want to record you, but the only problem is that you have to change your name. I said change my name, to what? He said Trini is okay but Lopez has got to go! I didn’t like that at all, I stood up from my chair, shook his hand and said thank you for your time but I can’t do it. I started to walk away and as I got to the door he said kid wait a minute, wait a minute come over here! He said okay you can keep your name. I stuck to my guns because he said to me … who is going to buy a Trini Lopez record? So I wrote and recorded my first song at that time called “The Right to Rock” and they heard it in Cincinnati, Ohio of all places. I don’t know how they found me in Dallas, but they found me. They said they were King Records and wanted to record me. They told me they also had subsidiary labels like Bethlehem Records and De Luxe Records. You’re not going to believe who was on those labels; they were all black artists like James Brown, Freddie King, Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters, Little Willie John who recorded the original “Fever” … and then on the jazz label they had Bill Doggett who had a big record called “Honky Tonk” …just a great instrumental, and they had a girl singer named Nina Simone, and all these people on the jazz label and King Records. But they were only playing these artists on obscure radio stations and not on mainstream radio. I was the only Latino on that label for about 3-4 years.”
“I landed some regional hits on King Records and then my friend Buddy Holly came along and wanted to help me. Buddy was a very nice person and sweet guy, also very down to earth. That’s why I liked him too. I was appearing in a nightclub at a little town about two hours outside of Dallas called Wichita Falls and a friend of mine was a disc jockey (Tommy “Snuff” Garrett) in that little town. He was doing an interview with Buddy Holly who was in Wichita Falls promoting either “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue” or one of his other hits at that time. He told Buddy, why don’t we have a couple of drinks and I want you to listen to a friend of mine who is appearing at a nightclub here in town. So they came to see me and after the show Buddy was really impressed, he told me that I was really good and wanted me to meet his record producer in Clovis, New Mexico.”
“After my gig, I packed up my Woodie station wagon with about four or five guys in my band and drove to Clovis, New Mexico. That night there was a big party and Buddy said why don’t you sing some songs for us with your band. So I sang about a half an hour. The next morning … the guys in my band woke me up at eight o’clock in the morning and said we’ve got to talk to you. They said we wanted you to know that we had a meeting and all decided that we wanted to go commune. I never heard that word before so they explained to me that it meant community property. They said we don’t want to call it Trini Lopez and His Combo anymore and you’re not going to sing anymore, we’re all going to sing. They were instrumental musicians and I knew they didn’t know how to sing, and they also wanted to split all the money five ways. So after that we recorded only instrumentals and they wouldn’t let me sing… can you believe that?”
“I drove them back to Dallas and told them I was going to get another band and said my goodbyes. Within 2-3 weeks I got another band and appeared at a Dallas nightclub making $800.00 a week. I always made good money with my music. I also got a gig at a Millionaires’ Club in Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas and making all kinds of money. During an intermission I got a call from my deejay friend “Snuff” Garrett who said The Crickets want you to come to Hollywood and then go on the road with them as their new lead singer. Buddy Holly had died by then.”
Ray Shasho: What was your reaction after hearing that Buddy Holly had died?
Trini Lopez: “Oh God, I was so upset. He was the first guy who tried to help me with my career.”
“I was shocked that they wanted me to join The Crickets in Hollywood. I always wanted to go to California. They sent me money and instead of flying, I drove to LA, because I wanted to stay there permanently. It took me two days to drive all by myself to California. When I got there … The Crickets had a beautiful cliff hanging house overlooking all of Los Angeles and there was partying every night for about two weeks. We were partying with people who already had hit records …The Everly Brothers, Johnny and Dorsey Burnette … all kinds of other stars and of course girls all over the place.”
“So I’m in Hollywood and my money is all gone, I’m broke and didn’t want to borrow money from the guys, so I told my agent Danny, can you get me a gig somewhere so I can make some money until The Crickets decide what they want to do. Within three or four days I auditioned to become the opening act for Joanie Summers (“Johnny Get Angry”) at the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills. My audition song was Dean Martin’s “Sway.” After playing a few bars he stopped me and said okay-okay you open tonight. He signed me for two weeks and I ended up staying a year. From there I went on to PJ’S and then landed with Sinatra … and the rest is history as they say.”
Ray Shasho: Trini you’re a fantastic performer but it also seems you had good luck on your side as well.
Trini Lopez: “Did I ever … my secretary is writing my life story and I really would like to call my book ‘By the Grace of God,’ we’ve been working on it for about two years now.”
Ray Shasho: When you were working in Dallas did you run into Jack Ruby?
Trini Lopez: “I worked for him at the time I was struggling in Dallas, but I used to make pretty good money. Jack Ruby had two or three strip joints but had one supper club and that’s where he wanted me to work for him and I did. I worked for him about six months and he was very nice to me. He was a tough guy, he’d throw people out of there bodily and fist fights and the whole bit. I could tell he was a tough guy but was very nice to me.”
Ray Shasho: Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?
Trini Lopez: “I was appearing at a nightclub in San Francisco called the Off –Broadway on North Beach. By this time, I ‘m already with a couple of albums and they’re selling like crazy. My manager woke me up early in the morning and said sorry to wake you but President Kennedy just got shot in Dallas. I was more surprised that he got shot in my hometown.”
“As I went along with my career, I got to meet the number one hostess on Air Force One when Kennedy was president. She was a real pretty lady. I met her at Peter Lawford’s house; he had a beautiful home in Malibu overlooking the ocean. Peter had a big party one night and said Trini I want you to meet this real pretty lady. He walked me over to her and then left. I asked her name and she said it was Monday. She was very sexy! I asked her what she did for a living. She gave me an interesting look and said I’m President Kennedy’s number one hostess on Air Force One. I thought to myself …I bet you are. (All laughing) I said very nice meeting you and started walking away when she said … In fact, when he finishes work at the oval office, he meets me at the White House library and he loves two of the songs from your album …”Heart of My Heart” and “Goody Goody” those are his favorite songs of yours. I was elated to here that.”
Ray Shasho: Trini you’re my hero man … you and Joey Heatherton?
Trini Lopez: “Yea, I use to date her. She was a sexy lady wasn’t she?”
Ray Shasho: I’ve always had ‘the hots’ for both Joey Heatherton and Ann-Margret.
Trini Lopez: “I knew Ann-Margret too, she’d come see me at PJ’S, her name was Ann-Margret Olsson and soon afterwards she began making movies with Elvis Presley and the whole bit. Elvis was another friend of mine.”
Ray Shasho: What was Elvis like?
Trini Lopez: “Great, a lot like Buddy Holly, real down to earth and friendly. He was my neighbor here in Palm Springs and lived half a block from my house. He honeymooned at that house and from there he moved up a little bit higher to more of a hill in my same neighborhood. I live in an area called Vista Las Palmas and he moved up another ten blocks and lived there for awhile.”
Ray Shasho: I watched a You Tube video of you and Chuck Berry jamming away.
Trini Lopez: “Oh my God yes, I used to host Hullabaloo. A couple of guys from that show emailed me and told me they’re thinking about doing a Hullabaloo Broadway show. That was a great show of course. I used to do the biggest shows on television and it was great!”
Ray Shasho: Trini you also had an acting career. You played Pedro Jiminez one of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ in that classic 1967 film. Was that actually you climbing up the rope really fast while Lee Marvin fired his weapon at you?
Trini Lopez: “Yes I did and that was dangerous, if I had let go of that rope I would probably broken my neck. There was no net or anything underneath to catch me. The director, Robert Aldrich, was a real tough guy and he didn’t do any of that, and I wasn’t going to say I don’t want to do it. I had a big part in the movie but Sinatra told me to leave the picture. So because of that I only had a small part, so when people see me tell them not to blink. (All laughing)”
“My contract was for about four months, but I was there seven months and the movie wasn’t even half completed. Sinatra had just married Mia Farrow and the next day flew to London for the honeymoon, just Frank, Mia, and his valet George Jacobs who was my friend too. Sinatra invited me to dinner that following night at his flat in London, when I was getting ready to leave he said, “Trini, I understand that your movie is running really late.” Sinatra knew everything! He said, “You ought to get back to your career, I think you’d better leave the film, the public is very fickle and they’ll forget about you, you’re hot as a firecracker right now.” It took me three attorneys to get me off the film. In those days I was doing four albums a year for Reprise Records.”
Ray Shasho: Trini, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing, or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Trini Lopez: “As far as singing, everybody that I really loved in my day when I was riding high in my career like Bing Crosby …people like that … I did Bing Crosby’s last TV show before he died. We were in London and then he went to Spain to play golf and he had a heart attack. It was a show with a very famous English singer Vera Lynn and she had a lot of big hits. She had this big TV show and wanted me and Mr. Crosby to be her guests. Then I used to do a lot of shows with The Rat Pack …but I just did my own thing all my life.”
“I’m the kind of artist who has never been offered to do a lot of singing with other artists; Sinatra had a thing going where he had all these singers with him on different albums, like the ‘Duets’ albums and I never got offers to do that. One of the latest recording efforts that I have done … there is an album coming out with me, David Somerville from ‘The Diamonds’… remember “Little Darlin’” …I sing with him on that song and even do part of it in Spanish, and Maurice Williams of ‘The Zodiacs’ is on the album. They’re calling the album ‘Triple Play’ and it’s coming out real soon.”
Ray Shasho: Trini, what other projects are you working on these days?
Trini Lopez: “Well, my last album (Into the Future) is my 65th. Into the Future is an album I’ve always wanted to do because it has some Sinatra songs. There are some songs in there I’ve wanted to do for a long-long time. I’m working on a new album with just original songs. I’m also working on a PBS Special they want to do of me called ‘Trini Lopez and Friends.’”
Ray Shasho: Trini do you have children or grandchildren that are in the music business?
Trini Lopez: “I don’t have any children and never been married. Everybody that I know who got married got a divorce. I’ve always been a bit of a loner anyway.”
Ray Shasho: Trini thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring.
Trini Lopez: “Thank you Raymond and I’m very flattered you said that… my best to your wife and family … let’s keep in touch.”
Purchase Trini Lopez NEW RELEASE: ‘TRINI LOPEZ AT PJ’S’ -Recorded live’ -Exhibit Records announces the release of a Special 50th Anniversary Numbered Limited Edition album of 'Trini Lopez At PJ’S.' The 200 gram vinyl record is beautifully presented in a sturdy old style gatefold jacket featuring the original album art work and for the first time includes the lyrics to all the tunes. The back of each album is foil-stamped with its unique number, available to purchase NOW at Exhibit Records.
Track listing: Side One: A-me-ri-ca, If I Had a Hammer, Bye Bye Blackbird, Cielito Lindo, This Land Is Your Land, What'd I Say Side Two: La Bamba, Granada, MEDLEY: Gotta Travel On, Down by the Riverside, Marianne,When the Saints Go Marching In, Volare, Unchain My Heart.
Trini Lopez - guitar, vocals Mickey Jones - drums Dick Brant - bass guitar
Producer: Don Costa Recorded at PJ's nightclub, West Hollywood, California
Watch for the NEW release entitled ‘TRIPLE PLAY’ featuring the legendary Trini Lopez, David Somerville from ‘The Diamonds’ and Maurice Williams of ‘The Zodiacs.’ Available very soon! Watch for the release on Trini’s official website www.trinilopez.com
Special thanks to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon PR
Also thanks to OraLee Walker
Coming UP Next … Legendary folk/rock singer, musician and composer Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine,” “Shanty”)
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