Trini Lopez first appeared in the pages of his hometown newspaper on Feb. 13, 1953, his name listed among those scheduled to perform during the fourth anniversary celebration for the Spanish Club of Dallas. At the time, Trinidad Lopez III was 15 years old, a student about to drop out of Crozier Technical High School. He was not yet a protégéeof Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra's, a topper of pop charts, a friend of the Beatles or Elvis Presley, a performer on The Ed Sullivan Show, a guest on What's My Line?, a cover boy for Time, a member of The Dirty Dozen, a pen pal with presidents and friends with other pop-culture immortals.
In time, his stardom afforded him a home in Palm Springs, Calif., where he lived for decades and filled the sunbaked space with a lifetime of memories all of which, including the guitars he designed for Gibson and his annotated The Dirty Dozen script and the famous photo taken with the Beatles and his awards and his extraordinary collections of correspondence with famous friends, are coming to Heritage Auctions during the May 1-2 Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction event.
In all, more than 90 lots will be offered during this extraordinary event. Even Lopez's beloved home, in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood he shared with such friends as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and Kirk Douglas, will be offered at auction April 13.
Lopez, raised in the Little Mexico neighborhood near downtown Dallas, liked to tell stories about where he came from, to talk about how all of his neighborhood pals "ended up dead from shotgun wounds or ended up in prison," if only to underscore the extraordinariness of his journey from barrio to Palm Springs, his ascension from hellraiser to hero.
When he died in August at the age of 83 from complications related to COVID-19, his passing garnered worldwide headlines. And Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl took to Twitter to honor Lopez's "beautiful musical legacy." He wrote, too, that the son of Little Mexico "unknowingly helped shape the sound of the Foo Fighters from day one," courtesy the red 1967 Trini Lopez signature guitar Grohl has played on every one of the band's albums.
Several of those very Lopez-designed-and-played guitars will be available in the May 1-2 auction, alongside his piano and other instruments used during his groundbreaking career.
"I was always amazed by his mind," says his nephew Trini Martinez, formerly drummer in the acclaimed, influential band Bedhead. "There are so many songs he could just perform. My uncle wasn't afraid to rock, and he rocked the way he wanted to. People knew early he was going to be someone."
As Lopez liked to tell it, his story began at the age of 12, when his father, who had been a singer and actor and dancer from Moroleón, Mexico, before migrating to Dallas with his family, bought Trini a $12 pawn-shop guitar to keep the boy out of further trouble. It was a black acoustic made by Gibson, the very company for which Lopez would famously design electric guitars, in standard and deluxe models, in the 1960s. In countless ways, that Gibson changed his life.
Lopez cut his first record in 1950, when he was only 13, at the Palace Theatre on Dallas' Theater Row, "Beautiful Beautiful Brown Eyes." A framed acetate of that historic recording, with a plaque noting its significance, is available in the auction.
By the time he was 15, when his name first appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Lopez was listening to and falling in love with Little Richard, B.B. King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Fats Domino and, of course, Elvis Presley, one day to become Lopez's nearby neighbor in Palm Springs. "I knew that if I just played Mexican music," Lopez once said, "I wasn't going to go anywhere."
A Crozier Tech yearbook is available in the sale, along with photo of young Trini and a Battle of the Bands trophy won during his high-school days. But he dropped out of Crozier Tech to help support the family, and spent the next decade making the long, slow climb to fame.
Lopez got his very first solo recording deal in 1958, with Dallas-based Volk Record Company. But despite the hometown acclaim beginning to pile up in The Dallas Morning News, which chronicled his every doing, the label's owner asked him to change the Lopez to something else. Of course, he refused.
"I was proud of my heritage, always will be," Lopez once recounted during an interview for Gibson guitars. Upon the occasion of his 80th birthday, Lopez told The Dallas Morning News, "I'm proud to be a Mexicano."
"The Right to Rock/Just Once More" was his sole Volk release.
The next year he signed to legendary King Records out of Ohio, and recorded about a dozen singles for the label, among them a cover of the 1940s country hit "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die" that went to No. 1 in his hometown, but nothing hit big.
In 1960, he briefly flirted with becoming Buddy Holly's replacement as The Crickets' frontman; there were even stories in the paper about how students at Crozier Tech were "glowing with pride" over the move. But Lopez passed, and by 1961 he was living in Los Angeles, with a regular stint at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills and, later, the jazz and rock club P.J.'s on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Singer Nino Tempo was so enamored of Lopez he brought composer and arranger Don Costa to see him one night. Costa became such a fan he introduced Lopez to his boss, Frank Sinatra, who caught the act and had Lopez signed to his upstart Reprise Records.
By August 1963, the kid from Dallas was a worldwide sensation thanks to a record called Trini Lopez at PJ's, his first official full-length the one with "If I Had a Hammer," which topped the charts in more than three dozen countries, and his clap-along covers of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" and "America" from West Side Story.The live album sold more than 1 million copies.
Lopez's gold record commemorating that landmark achievement is available in the auction, along with other gold-record awards and his entire record collection including LPs and 45s, including acetates and import singles. Heritage is even offering a record player he used to listen to those recordings.
By January 1964, Lopez was playing in Paris with some tousled up-and-comers from England billed as Les Beatles. For three remarkable weeks, Lopez, French chanteuse Sylvie Vartan, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr shared a bill and the stage at the Olympia Theatre, a legendary stint documented in fab photos republished endlessly upon Lopez's. Lopez's personal copies of those photos are included in this auction.
From then on, Lopez was part of the American pop vernacular music phenom, a television regular, guitar designer, magazine cover material, movie star, ubiquitous, adored. Some knew him as the singer of "Lemon Tree"; others, as the soldier killed off far too early during director Robert Aldrich's 1967 film The Dirty Dozen.
Lopez often told the story of why he exited the movie prematurely, costing him the role of hero at film's end because Sinatra strongly suggested it, let's say, so his singer could return to the recording studio where he belonged. Indeed, Lopez kept in his Palm Springs home his leather-bound Dirty Dozen script, in which he wrote about going to see Sinatra at his London flat on August 4, 1966.
That very Dirty Dozen script, among other screenplays, is offered in this auction.
Lopez wrote that Sinatra "told me people always have to pay sooner or later for hurting others," referring to the fact the movie shoot had fallen several months behind schedule. "Do what you like
but 'always' go back to what you are known for," Lopez wrote. Sinatra had advised the kid from Dallas to "always stay where your bread and butter is!!"
And so he did: Lopez recorded dozens of albums, stacked up numerous legislative and humanitarian honors and was even named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United States all of which are being offered in the May 1-2 auction, along with painted portraits, photos signed by Lopez and his famous friends, stage-worn clothes and myriad other noteworthy items. Here, too, is a bust of John F. Kennedy gifted to Lopez by President Lyndon Johnson, with a handwritten note from one Texan to another. Lopez kept nearly everything given to him. And now, his family is ready to share it with everyone else.
Lopez is now the subject of an acclaimed documentary called My Name Is Lopez, which debuted only a few weeks ago in Palm Springs. His music, eternally youthful and ebullient and crackling, endures, far longer than mere renown ever could.