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TRINI LOPEZ,
1937-2020

Trini Lopez, who blended American folk and rockabilly with Latin music in the1960s, scoring international hits with “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree,” died Tuesday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 83.

The cause was complications of COVID-19.

Lopez capitalized on the popularity of folk music in the early 1960s, giving his interpretations a beat to encourage dancing. He cut Pete Seeger and Lee Hays’ “If I Had a Hammer” in 1963, more than a year after Peter, Paul and Mary had a Top 10 hit with the tune. Lopez’s version went to #3 in the U.S. and topped charts in 36 countries.

Peter, Paul and Mary also recorded “Lemon Tree,” which was based on a Brazilian song from the 1950s. It was Lopez’s second biggest hit, reaching#20 in 1965. He also charted with versions of “Kansas City,” “La Bamba” and Bobby Darin’s “Jailer, Bring Me Water.”

Lopez’s debut, Live at PJ’s (Reprise), hit #2 in 1963 and started a string of seven Top 40 albums over the next two years.

A Mexican-American, Lopez got his start playing street corners in his native Dallas as a pre-teen, mixing songs such as “La Bamba” with blues tunes and the music of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. After playing club gigs, he met Holly, who introduced him to his producer, Norman Petty. They recorded two instrumentals for Columbia.

He recorded for the Dallas-based Volk Records and King Records, though none of his releases charted. He scored a run at the Sunset Strip club P.J.’s, where Frank Sinatra saw his show and introduced him to Don Costa, who signed him to Sinatra’s imprint, Reprise.

Lopez became a major draw in Las Vegas and acted in films before securing his own special on NBC in 1969 with The Ventures as his backing band.

Lopez designed two guitars for Gibson in 1964; Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Noel Gallagher are among the instruments’ fans.

 

 

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