In early 1964, Trini Lopez shared the stage at a popular music hall in Paris, France, with a group he had never heard about before.
“You’re going to be sharing the bill with a group called The Beatles,” Lopez recalled being told by promoters. “I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t. You know? It was great. We did great. And we had it packed day and night. The biggest stars were coming in to see me and The Beatles.”
The French media recounted the concerts each night, noting audiences called back Lopez to the stage seven times compared to just two for The Beatles. By the time the engagement ended, The Beatles were headed to America where their single, I Want to Hold Your Hand, was No. 1. Reporters asked Lopez whether the Fab Four would be a hit with U.S. audiences.
“My dressing room wasn’t much bigger than a closet, and The Beatles were right next door,” Lopez says. “I had to whisper because the wall was so thin, and I knew I could hear everything they were saying. I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think so.’ Why not? I said, ‘Because, I didn’t want to say I stole the show from them every night. I didn’t want to say that.’
PHOTO BY GREGG FELSEN
Trini Lopez moved to Palm Springs in 1966, and then permanently in 1981.
But I said, ‘In America, there is a group that I like much, much better, and they are better musicians and everything — The Beach Boys. I love The Beach Boys, especially at that time. They said, ‘Oh, really? And then, The Beatles hit New York and the rest was history.”
Lopez was making his own history at the same time. Just a year earlier, his debut live album, Trini Lopez at PJ’s released by Frank Sinatra’s label, Reprise Records, sold more than 1 million copies and included the hit, “If I Had a Hammer,” which climbed to No. 1 in 36 countries. Other hits followed, including “Lemon Tree,” “I’m Comin Home,” “La Bamba,” and “Sally Was a Good Old Girl.”
Lopez, who has owned a house in the Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs since the mid-1960s and moved into it full-time in the early 1980s, talks more with Palm Springs Life about Sinatra, how he handled success, and how his career has taken off again at age 80 with all original material since pairing up with fellow musician and producer, Joe Chavira.
VIDEO: A promotional video announcing “Trini Lopez All Original Songs” released in 2016.
PSL: Were you surprised by your success in the early 1960s?
Trini Lopez: Well, I did and I didn’t. I’ve always been a realist, and I’ve always been very positive of my life. No matter if I never sang. So I knew that I could be somebody really popular if God would help me. And I prayed. A lot. I don’t mind you writing that down. I prayed a lot. To this day, I pray a lot. Day and night. I pray day and night. My parents were very religious, so they always taught me to put God in front. And to me, that’s what did it.
PSL: What do you credit the longevity of your voice to?
TL: Frank Sinatra was my mentor. He was like my dad. I said, “Mr. Sinatra.” He never told me to call him Frank, by the way. Never. I knew him 36 years and he never said, “Trini, call me Frank.” We would be in the limousine with The Rat Pack on the way to do big shows in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I said, ‘What do you do for your voice.’ He says, “Just vocalize before you come on the stage. Just vocalize in your dressing room. That’ll help you a lot.” And then, he told me about tea and honey. Said it’ll give you a nice energy for you to have more energy to do your show.”
PSL: Who were your neighbors when you bought your house in Palm Springs?
TL: Elvis was my friend. We used to get together. Down the street was Peter Lawford and Kim Novak.Three houses from mine is where Rock Hudson had a house for his friend. George Nader. Then my friend George Hamilton, when he was married to Alana Stewart. They had a big party one night and George introduced Alana to Rod Stewart. That was the end of their marriage.
PSL: When did you come to Palm Springs full-time?
TL: I retired in 1981. I wasn’t retired. I’m still not retired. But I was bored. I had everything first class. Limousines, the best first-class airplanes, the best hotels, 5-star hotels all over the world, and I got bored. Can you believe it? I told my people, I think I’m gonna just cool it for a while. I came to Palm Springs to my little house here, and I used to sit by the pool every day and get some sun, and I never saw anybody for a year. I was kind of peopled out. Then, listen to this, it was meant to be. I started getting phone calls from people. “Mr. Lopez, is your life story coming out in a movie?” I said, ‘Not that I know of.’ “A movie’s coming out called La Bamba.” I said, ‘Well good, I’ll go see it.’ And I did. And then the phone starts ringing again. More concerts, more big money. And so I kind of got into it again.
PSL: Joe, How did you connect with Trini?
Joe Chavira: Trini was receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Indian Wells Resort. They have this big lobby, and there was a piano there, like nobody had touched it in years, sitting close to the front desk. So I went up to Trini and told him what an honor it was to meet him because I used to watch him perform as a kid. He inspired me as a kid to do things. So Trini says, “I hear you write some songs.”
TL: Somebody told me he was a song writer.
JC: Trini is so fast, quickly, he said, “Really! Play one!” I played one and he says, “Hmm. It’s good. Do one more.” And I did a second one. Shook my hand and said, “Hey, maybe we could do something.” And that’s how it started.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE CHAVIRA
Trini Lopez and Joe Chavira have written music that crosses several different music genres, including gospel.
TL: And I knew he was good. I could tell right away.
PSL: Did you walk away and go, “Yeah, this will never happen.”
JC: Well it’s funny because, I have to back up a step, you have to know my background. My dad’s from Texas; Trini is from Texas. My family well respected him as a person, celebrity person. So I say that Trini helped me out twice in my life and my career. He didn’t charge me for vocal lessons or piano. He inspired me as a kid when I watched his movies and listened to his album, Trini Lopez Live at PJ’s. I never forgot that album. I would listen to his album and sing his stuff. I kind of was getting lessons off of him. Never thought in a million years I’d meet him. And then here we are today, and I actually meet him, and I had a few songs I’d written, and then he and I got together. Trini is quick when he writes music, and people don’t know he plays the piano. He’s good. So hel’ll tell me, “Do this, and do that, Joe, change it to an A minor, I think it should say ‘the sky,’ not ‘the hill,'” and before you know it, one, two, three, four … 46 songs in nine months. We broke the Beatles’ record. They did two albums in most of one year. We did six.
PSL: Trini are you surprised at this stage of your career to be writing so many songs?
TL: This is all different because I’ve always written songs, but never that many.
JC: We just have fun, write, and he’s inspired me to … You know why he’s inspirational? If you’re a songwriter, and you work with a guy that sings one range, one key, you would never say nothing to the guy. Trini’s voice does things you can’t imagine. It just goes all over the place. So his versatility and appreciation of music has made me a better writer.
To purchase A Trini Trilogy, a 3 CD collection with original songs by Trini Lopez and Joe Chavira, send $39.95 to: Trini Lopez , 2396 S. Palm Canyon #33, Palm Springs, CA 92264, or call 760-902-1318.
VIDEO: View this performance of Trini Lopez and Joe Chavira posted on YouTube from a trip to Sri Lanka in 2016.