Sunday, November 25, 2012

TRINI LOPEZ - YOU CAN'T SAY GOOD-BYE

These days, Trini Lopez is pretty much known as a music footnote, a forgotten MOR crooner or worse yet, a punchline for brain-dead sitcom writers. This is, to say the least, unfortunate, because Trinidad Lopez III (b. May 15, 1937) is possibly the greatest of all Mexican rock and rollers, right up there with Ritchie Valens.

Trini's father, Trinidad Lopez II, was a singer, dancer, musician and actor in Mexico, but moved to America with his wife at an early age to make a better life for themselves. That "better life" didn't come easy. Mexicans were frowned upon, and Trini's parents had to survive by day labor and taking in other people's laundry.

Being a poor boy from the barrio, Trini soon began hanging out on the streets. He started running with a rough crowd of kids, and could have ended up as a gang member had his father not intervened. When Trini's father found out who his son was hanging with, he gave Trini the spanking of his life - literally. He beat the boy so badly that he felt incredible remorse, so he spent a hard-earned 12 dollars to buy his son a guitar, and taught him how to play it. Trini would always say that he owed his career to that spanking.

Soon young Trini was busking for coins on the street corners with his guitar, in between classes at Dallas' Crozier Tech High School. Unfortunately, the money situation for his family got worse, not better, and Trini dropped out to help his family pay the bills. By this time, he had gotten a small group together, and began gigging in small clubs around Dallas, eventually making it to the El Cipango Club, which was in the rich section of Dallas, singing the rock and roll hits of the day along with a few original tunes.

Trini's songwriting skills began to mature, and in 1958 he recorded his first single for the local Volk label ("The Right To Rock"), but the record almost never came out. Seems that the producer wanted Trini to change his last name for the record (much like Bob Keene persuaded Ritchie Valens to shorten his last name from Valenzuela). Trini refused and walked out the door (made sense, since Trini was getting lots of gigs in Dallas under his real name anyway). The producer relented, and Trini recorded his single. It wouldn't be the last time that Lopez would show how proud he was of his heritage and his roots.

Somehow, the Volk 45 came to the attention of someone at King Records in Cincinnati, home of Hank Ballard, Little Willie John, James Brown and many other great R&B stars. They signed Trini to a contract, and for the next two years King would fly Trini Lopez from Dallas to Cincinnati to record. Unfortunately, none of those records became hits, though two of them, "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die" and "Nobody Listens To Our Teenage Problems", got good airplay in the Southwest. If you can ever find them, dig up Trini's King sides (you can find most of them here). You'll find that these are some of the best rockers of the late 1950s.

After the King contract expired, Trini accepted an offer from The Crickets to become their new lead singer after Buddy Holly died (Trini had befriended Buddy in the late 50s). But after Trini drove out to California to meet them, he found that The Crickets weren't in much of a mood to work - they were still collecting fat royalty checks and having infrequent rehearsals. So, Trini was left in California with no contract, no bookings, and no money. He recorded a one-off single for the local Dra label (the killer "Sinner Not A Saint", later reissued on United Modern in 1964), and accepted a 2-week engagement at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills as a soloist - just Trini and his guitar.

That two weeks turned into a year, and soon Trini moved into a residence at P. J.'s in Hollywood. He took the town by storm, and soon celebrities like Bobby Darin and Jackie Cooper were asking to sit in on drums. Don Costa from Reprise Records (Frank Sinatra's label) saw Trini one night and signed him to an eight-year contract with the label, and by 1963 Trini was a star, with hit records like "If I Had A Hammer" and "La Bamba" and hit LPs like "Live At P.J.'s". Gibson Guitars even asked Trini to design a guitar for them in 1964. He ended up designing two - the Lopez Standard and the Lopez Deluxe. Both are highly sought-after on the collectors' market. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters swears by his. In 1965, Trini was asked to host an episode of "Hullaballoo", and, true to form, insisted that some of his Mexican compadres like Vikki Carr and The Sir Douglas Quintet appear with him.

The Reprise recordings, while good, show that Trini had to dilute his rocker tendencies for wider commercial acceptance. But every once in a while he'd sneak out a killer rocker like this one, as the B-side to his remake of Bobby Darin's "Jailer Bring Me Water". Dig Trini!!

NOTE: that's not a skip in the middle of the record - someone at Reprise was a really bad tape editor.

Trini Lopez - You Can't Say Good-Bye (Reprise 0260) - 1964

5 comments:

  1. Really interesting, Rich. I had several Lopez albums when I was younger, but didn't really listen to them much and got rid of them. I'm always seeing the Reprise stuff in mint condish. You've inspired me to have another look, I mean, listen. I do have "Mental Journey" on 45, though. Great groove.

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  2. Thanks. You got me the urge to find his early sides.

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  3. Yes don't see much of his work around!

    got a 3 song 45 and a couple of LPs don't see much of his stuff in cleveland!


    Gypsy~Beth

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  4. King Records in the sixties (when Trini Lopez gained his hits on "live" records) released two albuns with his recordings (many of them never released before). Details: a) as if they were "live" recordings.
    b) rocker songs in a LP; ballad songs in other.
    King Records was smart and in the same time was not.

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