Icebreaker

A Great Day — From his longtime Palm Springs home, 'Mr. La Bamba' plays a new tune.



In 1963, Trini Lopez’s first hit song, “If I Had a Hammer,” sold 5 million copies and reached No. 1 on the charts in 25 countries. In 40 years since then, the longtime Palm Springs resident — who pioneered the fusion of country, folk, Latin, and rock music — has amassed a long list of accolades and tales.

More impressive than his induction to the International Latin Music Hall of Fame was having a custom-designed Gibson guitar named after him.

“My father bought me my first guitar for $12,” says Dallas-born Lopez, whose first name is short for Trinidad. “He really could not afford it, but he wanted to keep me away from the street gangs. My father taught me how to play guitar, and it changed my life forever.”

His big break came in 1963, when Frank Sinatra signed him to an eight-year contract with his label, Reprise Records. “Oh my God, Mr. Frank Sinatra!” Lopez says.  “He never said, ‘Call me Frank.’ I would say, ‘Mr. Sinatra.’ And he would say, ‘Yes, Trini.’ I knew Mr. Frank Sinatra for 38 years. He was like my father. Mr. Sinatra needed respect. And he deserved respect.”

It was the same year Lopez first visited Palm Springs. “I bought a house in 1966 and moved here full time in 1981,” he says, noting that he needed little time to become part of the town’s social fabric. “Once, at a celebrity tennis tournament at The Riviera [Resort and Racquet Club], I beat Sonny Bono on the center court,” Lopez recalls. “But he invited me to Sophia Loren’s party at his house. And Sonny wanted to sing with me. So, he sang ‘If I Had a Hammer’ with me in back of his house. I always remember that when I think of Sonny.”

Lopez still lives in the Palm Springs neighborhood where Elvis Presley once called home. “Elvis lived not far from my house,” he says. “He honeymooned here with Priscilla. He was really nice, really down to earth, just like my other late music friend, Buddy Holly. Every time we got together, Elvis always talked to me about only one thing: religion. Can you believe that?”

A tear wells in Lopez’s eye when he mentions Holly, a friend during his early years in Texas.

He recounts the story of “La Bamba,” his most famous song: “It’s a wedding song that originated from Vera Cruz in Mexico. It was written in the 1920s by an unknown author, so it is [in the] public domain. I sang that song two years before Ritchie Valens recorded it. After Buddy Holly’s and Valens’ tragic plane crash, I came to Hollywood, hooked up with Sinatra, and recorded the song. It became such an international success for me. And, so, when the movie La Bamba came out, everyone thought that it was a story about me. I changed the song a lot and rearranged it so that, in the end, I have received the rights and the credit for ‘La Bamba.’”

Lopez, who also appeared in several television shows and movies (including The Dirty Dozen), wrote his new album, You Are Like a Great Day in May, from his tranquil Palm Springs home. “I haven’t written in a long time,” he says. “The [title] song is about a girl. There is also ‘Trini’s Tune’ — a happy song with a happy beat. And there are some love songs, too. And I did not write many love songs in my life. This new album is a combo of everything. You have to hear it.”

Palm Springs Life

Related Articles

Ghouls’ Night Out

Halloween is always hot in Palm Springs — and we’re not just talking about the temperature. So get your costume ready, pick your venue, and prepare for an unforgettable night.

BalletBoyz Brings 'Cool' Approach to Dance in McCallum Theatre Show

BalletBoyz, an all-male troupe, has brought a radical and amazing approach to dance, and will appear Nov. 6 at McCallum Theatre as part of the Palm Desert International Dance Festival.

40 Under Forty: Kelly McLean

Splash House co-founder Kelly McLean had aspirations of being a performer herself, starting her own girl pop group in Los Angeles and doing some acting in Palm Springs.

Nadia G. Explores Palm Springs Cuisine With New Cooking Channel Show

Nadia G.'s favorite ingredient in cooking is comedy and her new Cooking Channel show recently came to Palm Springs to explore unique cuisine and have a few laughs.

The Man Behind Coachella

15 years ago, Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett launched a music festival that reinvented the valley’s youth tourism market.

Promotions + Contests

Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter to Win A Celebrate Dance Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the second annual Palm Desert International Dance Festival performances.