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Trini Lopez, Guitarist, Singer and Actor, Dead at 83

Trini Lopez performs at l'Olympia in Paris in 1964.
(Image credit: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Trini Lopez - an acclaimed guitarist, singer and actor whose body of work spanned more than half a century - has died at the age of 83. He had been suffering from the coronavirus, according (opens in new tab) to his friend and collaborator, Joe Chavira.

Born in Dallas in 1937 to parents who had emigrated to the city from Morolean, Mexico, Lopez took up (opens in new tab) the guitar at 12 and - influenced by American R&B, early rock 'n' roll and the Mexican pop and folk tunes of his youth - became a fixture of Dallas' music scene by his early 20s.

It was at one of these local gigs that he met (opens in new tab) Buddy Holly, who put Lopez in touch with his producer, Norman Petty. Though Lopez's subsequent recording sessions with Petty were largely unsuccessful, they gave Lopez a foot in the door of the business that, a few years later, allowed him to land a regular gig at P.J.’s nightclub in Hollywood.

There, he caught the eye of Frank Sinatra, who signed (opens in new tab) him to his Reprise record label. Encouraged by the popularity of his nightclub act, Reprise released Lopez's debut album, Live at P.J.'s, in 1963.

An immediate smash, it contained Lopez's signature tune, a distinctly up-tempo version of Pete Seeger's “If I Had a Hammer." Selling more than a million copies, Lopez's version would go on to top the charts in 36 countries.

Lopez's enormous success, and obvious guitar skills, caught the eye of Gibson, who approached Lopez about creating a signature guitar. The resulting Gibson Trini Lopez Standard and Lopez Deluxe were produced from 1964 to 1971, and later found a remarkable second life in the hands of the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, whose Lopez Standard has been his number one guitar for almost three decades.

“Today the world sadly lost yet another legend, Trini Lopez,” Grohl posted on the Foo Fighters’ Twitter account (opens in new tab). “Trini not only left a beautiful music legacy of his own, but also unknowingly helped shape the sound of the Foo Fighters.

“Every album we have ever made, from the first to the latest, was recorded with my red Trini Lopez signature guitar. It is the sound of our band, and my most prized possession from the day I bought it in 1992. Thank you, Trini for all of your contributions.”

Lopez was also a well-known actor, most prominently appearing in the 1966 World War II film, The Dirty Dozen

He recorded more than 60 albums in total, and was said (opens in new tab) to have just finished recording a new song to raise money for food banks overwhelmed by demand from the pandemic and its resulting economic effects.

"Trini Lopez - what a great guy and wonderful friend," wrote singer Pat Boone in a Facebook post (opens in new tab). "We were blessed to make a good living doing what we loved - making others happy!"

Jackson Maxwell
Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.