His blend of American folk, Latin and rockabilly music captivated listeners worldwide. His secret: arrangements that people could dance to. He died of Covid-19.
Trini Lopez, who had worldwide hit records in the early 1960s by creating a unique mix of American folk, Latin and rockabilly music, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 83.
His longtime friend and collaborator Joe Chavira said the cause was complications of Covid-19.
Mr. Lopez’s two biggest records — “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” — had both been hits as well for the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary several years earlier. But Mr. Lopez’s versions soared even higher on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
His “Hammer” reached No. 3 (Peter, Paul and Mary’s had gotten as high as No. 10), and his “Lemon Tree” got to No. 10 (theirs had peaked at No. 35). They also had more international impact.
Mr. Lopez’s version of “If I Had a Hammer” shot to No. 1 in 36 countries and sold more than a million copies. His stylistic advantage? Arrangements that listeners could dance to.
“Making songs danceable helped me a lot,” Mr. Lopez told The Classic Rock Music Reporter in 2014, adding, “Discotheques back in those days were not only playing my songs, they were playing my album all the way through.”
For yet another draw, Mr. Lopez punctuated many of his songs with joyous hoots and trills drawn from Mexican folk, emphasizing his ethnic heritage at a time when many Latin performers kept theirs hidden. “I’m proud to be a Mexicano,” he told The Seattle Times in 2017.
His groundbreaking mix of sounds connected with listeners right from the start, with his debut album, “Live at PJ’s,” recorded at a popular Los Angeles nightclub and released in 1963. The disc went gold, fueled by the success of “If I Had a Hammer.” The album also featured a version of “La Bamba,” the traditional Mexican song that another pioneering Latin rocker, Ritchie Valens, had turned into a Top 40 hit five years earlier.
He racked up other Top 40 hits with “Kansas City” and “I’m Coming Home, Cindy.” He made Billboard magazine’s adult contemporary Top 40 15 times.
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