Trini Lopez has died of complications from Covid-19. He was 83. His debut album Live at PJ’s is one of my all-time favourites; one of my most-played records. And it is without a doubt the album I would recommend as music’s equivalent of a Happy Pill. I find it impossible to hear this album without having a smile, without hearing a smile. Trini Lopez knew how to communicate a song.
The many standards and cover versions that dominated his repertoire are served up here, and on other recordings (I’ve collected a handful, having been turned on to his sound by hearing PJ’s and it’s second volume) without instrumental virtuosity; the focus always on the song. Singalong classics.
Bye Bye Blackbird, If I Had A Hammer, Unchain My Heart, Volare, When The Saints Go Marching In, A-me-ri-ca, This Land Is Your Land, La Bamba.
These are songs you know and love. You’ve heard so many versions of them. You’ve seen them in films and various shows, heard them in a variety of contexts. Trini makes his version seem like the one that matters simply by the joy you hear and hold from his voice, from his way of selling the song, telling the story – basking in the merriment of simple, effective performance.
When I was a young, keen music store guy – my first job behind the counter back when record stores were the place where many of us first learned about music – we would import copies of Live at PJ’s and play it in the morning. We’d play it in the evening. We’d hammer out his crooning all over the land. And we sold bucket-loads of copies.
I’d play it at home – sometimes as soon as I returned back after listening to it once or twice as part of a shift. And I’d ‘sell’ it to friends and family. When CDs took a backseat PJ’s and a couple of other Trini albums were go-to records on my first iPod, staples of the playlists I made.
His music is happiness.
Last year on holiday in Hawaii I found the local record store and was stoked to collect the soundtrack to Trini’s TV variety show. Yes, like a lot of musicians in the 60s he crossed over to TV and film acting work. But it was the music that mattered. And Lopez continued to gig for many years.
I may have even googled the estimated costs and fees around getting him to New Zealand for a show in the early 00s. It was the closest I ever came to throwing a hat in the ring as one-time tour promoter.
Often when I listen to Trini Lopez I think about how amazing it might have been to bring him to New Zealand for a show. The simple reasoning behind it being to spread the joy.
So, sad news today. And a reminder – one of so many – of the impacts of Coronavirus. The brutality of it. Particularly for people in their 70s and older.
I’ll be thinking of Trini even more than normal today. I’ve already listened to Live at PJ’s twice this morning. And it’s about to go for another spin. So I’m hoping for a very good day despite this very sad news.
His music is happiness.
R.I.P. Trini Lopez