Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Late Great Trini Lopez

Trini Lopez, the musician and singer known for such hits as "If I Had a Hammer" and "Lemon Tree," died on August 11 2020 at the age of 83. The cause was complications from COVID-19.

Trini Lopez was born Trinidad Lopez III on May 13 1937 in Dallas, Texas. His father, Trinidad Lopez II, had been a singer, dancer, and actor in his native Mexico, but earned a living as a manual labourer. He was a teenager when he married Petra Gonzalez in their hometown of  Moroleón, Guanajuato. They later moved to Dallas and would have six children, including Trinidad Lopez III. Trini Lopez grew up in the area of Dallas known as Little Mexico. He was eleven years old when his father bought him a guitar and taught him how to play it. Young Mr. Lopez began playing on street corners for a few coins. He played tradition Mexican songs, as well as songs by such artists as T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly. He formed his first band, The Big Beats, when he was 15. The band played at the upscale Cipango Club in Dallas.

In 1958 Trini Lopez met Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly introduced Trini Lopez to his producer, Norman Petty. Unfortunately, both Mr. Lopez's relationship with Norman Petty, as well as his own band, were strained at the time. They released two instrumentals for Columbia Records before Trini Lopez left the band.

Trini Lopez recorded this first single, "The Right to Rock," as a solo artist for Volk Records in Dallas. The label tried to persuade Trini Lopez to change his last name in order to hide the fact that he was Mexican American, but Mr. Lopez refused to do so. It was the next year that he signed with King Records. Trini Lopez recorded around a dozen songs for King Records for the next three years including "Rock On" and "Sweet Thing," but none of them charted.

It was a few months after Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were killed in a plane crash five miles northwest of Mason City, Iowa on February 3 1959 that The Crickets asked Trini Lopez to be their new lead singer. Mr. Lopez went to Hollywood to join The Crickets, but ultimately it did not work out.

Trini Lopez's big break came when he started playing at P.J.'s, a club frequented by many dignitaries, among them Frank Sinatra. Mr. Sinatra had Trini Lopez signed to his own label, Reprise Records. His first album on Reprise Records, Trini Lopez at PJ's, proved to be a hit, going to no. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Taken from the album was the single "If I Had a Hammer," which peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by further hits in the Sixties, including "Kansas City" (which went to no. 23 on Billboard Hot 100), "Lemon Tree" (which went to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100), and "I'm Comin' Home, Cindy" (which went to no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100. His albums did better than his singles, regularly charting throughout the Sixties. Some even broke the top twenty of the Billboard album chart, including More Trini Lopez at PJ's (which peaked at no. 11), The Latin Album (which peaked at no. 18), and The Folk Album (which peaked at no. 18).

Trini Lopez's last single to chart was "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying", which peaked at no. 113 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. He continued to release singles until 1978. Trini Lopez continued to release albums until the Teens, with his last album, Into the Future, being released in 2011. He continued performing well into the Teens.

Trini Lopez was a talented guitarist and in 1964 designed two guitars for the Gibson Guitar Corporation. He designed the Trini Lopez Standard, a guitar for rock and roll, and the Lopez Deluxe, a guitar for jazz.

Trini Lopez also had an acting career. He made his acting debut playing himself in Marriage on the Rocks (1965). He again appeared as himself in Poppies Are Also Flowers (1966). He played Pedro Jiminez in the classic The Dirty Dozen (1967). He also appeared in The Phynx (1970) and Antonio (1973). Mr. Lopez also appeared on television, guest starring on Adam-12 and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and the TV movie The Reluctant Heroes. In addition to numerous variety shows and talk shows, he also appeared in his own TV special, The Trini Lopez Show, in 1969.

Trini Lopez was truly a force to be reckoned with. He blended such diverse styles as folk, blues, rockabilly and Mexican music. He provided upbeat arrangements for songs that usually aren't upbeat, such as "If I Had a Hammer." He was a virtuoso with the guitar. In addition to his talent as a guitarist and singer, Mr. Lopez also displayed talent as an actor. He shined as Pedro Jiminez in a cast full of stars in The Dirty Dozen. In the Adam-12 episode "Log 115: Gang War," he was impressive as Father Xavier Rojas. Here it must also be mentioned that Trini Lopez was a pioneer with regards to Mexican Americans in popular culture. He refused to change his name, telling the Dallas Morning News in 2017, "You know how many [Latino] artists in America that changed their name? Vikki Carr and Freddy Fender. I insisted on keeping my name Lopez. I'm proud to be a Lopez. I'm proud to be a Mexicano." At a time when images of Mexicans in American pop culture were usually stereotypes, Trini Lopez refused to be anything but himself, paving the way for other artists of Mexican descent. He was a true pioneer and an enormous talent.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Raymond Allen Passes On

Raymond Allen, who played Aunt Esther's alcoholic husband Woodrow on the classic sitcom Sanford and Son, died on August 10 at the age of 91.

Raymond Allen was born March 5 1929 in Kansas City, Kansas. He made his film debut in 1946 in a small part in the film Fight That Ghost. In the Seventies he appeared in the movies Mean Mother (1973) and Darktown Strutters (1975). He first appeared on Sanford and Son as Uncle Woodrow in 1974 and continued to appear on the show until it went off the air in 1977. He reprised his role of Woodrow on the spinoff Sanford Arms. While he was on Sanford and Son, he also appeared in the recurring role of Ned the Wino on Good Times. In 1976 he began appearing on Starsky and Hutch as mechanic Merl the Earl. He guest starred on Insight, The Love Boat and The Jeffresons. He appeared in the TV movie Gus Brown and Midnight Brewster in 1985.

Mr. Allen retired from acting in 1985, although he continued to make personal appearances.

Raymond Allen was a wonderful actor with a real talent for comedy. He stood out as Uncle Woodrow in a cast that included Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page. He stood out on other shows as well, and remains memorable as Ned on Good Times and Merl the Earl on Good Times.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Wayne Fontana Passes On

Wayne Fontana, the British singer who had hits with both The Mindbenders and as a solo artist, died on August 6 2020 at the age of 74.

Wayne Fontana was born Glyn Ellis in Manchester on October 28 1945. He took his stage name from Elvis Preley's drummer D. J. Fontana. In 1962 he formed his backing band The Jets. After various line-up changes to The Jets, in 1963 Wayne Fontana signed to the label named, by total coincidence, Fontana Records. Mr. Fontana's backing band was then renamed The Mindbenders, after the Dirk Bogarde movie The Mind Benders (1963).

Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders' first single, "Hello Josephine," peaked at no. 46 on the British single chart. Their next two singles did not chart. Their first album, the eponymous Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, was released in 1964. Their next single, "Stop Look and Listen," peaked at no. 37. It was followed by their first major British hit, "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," which peaked at no. 5 on the British singles chart. It would be their next single that would prove to be Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders' biggest hit. "The Game of Love" peaked at no. 2 on the British singles chart and at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The success of the single would lead to their first American album, The Game of Love.

Unfortunately, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders were unable to capitalize on the success of "The Game of Love." "It's Just a Little Bit Too Late" did relatively well in Britain, peaking at no. 20, but only went to no. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. "She Needs Love," Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders' final single together, only went to no. 32 on the British singles chart. One last album, Eric, Rick, Wayne and Bob – It's Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders was released in 1965.

Wayne Fontana left The Mindbenders in October 1965, reportedly in the middle of a concert. Still under contract to Fontana Records, his first single as a solo artist, "It Was Easier To Hurt Her," was released in 1965. It went to no. 36 on the British singles chart. Wayne Fontana had a few hits in 1966. "Come On Home" went to no. 16 on the British singles chart, while "Pamela Pamela" went to no. 11. Despite the success of "Pamela Pamela," continuing to release singles through 1969, "Pamela Pamela" would be his last single to chart. Wayne Fontana was one of the first performers to play at the now legendary Glastonbury Festival in 1970.

After the Glastonbury Festival, Wayne Fontana took a break from music. He signed to Warner Bros. and released the single "Together" in 1973, but it failed to chart. After signing to Polydor, his final single "The Last Bus Home," was released in 1976.  Afterwards he retired from the music industry. He would later perform on the Sixties revival circuit.

Wayne Fontana had his share of problems ever since the Seventies, but that does not erase his contribution to popular music. Both with The Mindbenders and as a solo artist, he recorded a number of memorable songs. In the United States, "The Game of Love" remains one of the best known British songs from the Sixties and still receives a good deal of radio airplay. His contemporaries certainly respected him. Among the tributes to Wayne Fontana were ones from Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits and Terry Sylvester of The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Hollies.