Trini Lopez: More Than a Footnote in Beatles History

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Today is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While there is no connection between the JFK assassination and The Beatles, there is one remote coincidence with someone in the Beatles’ history.

Trini Lopez is not well known in Beatles history, but his intriguing connection to The Fab Four is most unique.

Trinidad “Trini” Lopez III was born in Dallas to Mexican immigrant parents. Despite his sophomore class in high school voting him “The most likely to succeed”, he was forced to drop out of school during his senior year to go to work to help his family economically. However, the “Most likely to succeed” moniker certainly came true during his career.

His 1963 song “If I Had a Hammer” reached number one in 36 different countries and peaked at number three in the U.S. He charted 13 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Lemon Tree”, which reached number 20. Two other songs, “Kansas City” and “I’m Comin’ Home, Cindy”, also scored in the Top 40.

“If I Had a Hammer” was written by Pete Seeger, the American folk singer and social activist who was a 1936 graduate of Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut. Peter, Paul and Mary would also score a number ten hit with “If I Had a Hammer” in 1962, a year before Lopez’ different and distinctive version of the song.

In 1959 producer Snuff Garrett tried to hire Lopez to front a post-Buddy Holly version of The Crickets, but Lopez was determined to make it on his own. After singing with a label, his 1963 live album Trini Lopez at P.J.’s bolted him onto the radar screen with commercial success and critical acclaim, with the album’s most popular song being “If I Had a Hammer.” The singer also had a minor role in the 1967 cult classic movie The Dirty Dozen, which is famous for its all-star cast.

Lopez’ connection to The Beatles is amazing. From January 16, 1964 to February 4, 1964, Lopez played on a bill with The Beatles at The Olympia Theatre in Paris, along with French singer Sylvie Vartan. The three acts played two shows each night during the week and three shows on weekends. Lopez received top billing for this engagement and The Beatles actually opened for him. After this stand at the Olympia Theatre ended on February 4th with The Beatles opening for Lopez, the four boys made their live U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show only four days later on February 8. Needless to say, the world of the four lads from Liverpool changed drastically in those four days.

In an interview with Gary James on ClassicBands.com, Lopez elaborated on The Beatles opening for him for almost a month in Paris:

“What happened was, we got booked into the Olympic Theatre, right before they came to America. We were there for a whole month in Paris. Two shows a night, three on Saturday. I used to steal the show from them every night! The French newspapers would say “Bravo Trini Lopez! Who are The Beatles?” Can you believe that? They didn’t have much of an act. They used to just stand there and shake their heads with the hair. The girls loved that hair. We were there in January ’64 for a whole month. In fact, when we finished doing the shows, the last night we were there, reporters came to my dressing room. My dressing room was next to theirs and they said “Mr. Lopez, The Beatles are leaving tomorrow for New York. Do you think they’ll be a hit?” I said “I don’t think so.” I whispered ’cause I didn’t want them to hear me. They said “Why not?” I said “Because in America there’s a group I like much better than these guys called The Beach Boys.” And I really liked ’em much better. Little did I know…(laughs) Unbelievable. But, it was a great experience being with them.”

In this same interview, the famed Mexican-American performer acknowledges that he got his start working for a few years performing at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in his native Dallas. The Carousel Club was a night club owned and operated by Ruby, and had obvious connections to crime syndicates. Lopez stresses in the interview that contrary to popular belief, Ruby did not help him secure his first record deal and did not advance his career at all. By the time Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, Trini Lopez was already an established international star with “If I Had a Hammer” a number one hit throughout the globe in 36 countries, in addition to the many other nations where it placed high on the charts.

Ironically, one odd coincidence between the Kennedy assassination and pop music is not well known. There have been conspiracy theorists who spin that so many important people coincidentally happened to be in Dallas on the day of the assassination such as former Vice President Richard Nixon flying out of Love Field that morning; also, theories abound that the primary architects of Operation Mongoose, the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, were in the city as well. Many other important names can be found in these unsubstantiated stories and conspiracy theories.

However, what are the odds that the artists with the number song on the Billboard Hot 100 on that very day were in Dallas on November 22, 1963? The number one song on that fateful day was “I’m Leaving It All Up to You” by Dale and Grace. This duo with the top song in the land were in Dallas on that day as part of the “1963 Caravan of Stars” tour, organized by Dick Clark. They were scheduled to appear on the night of November 22 at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, which was only three blocks from Dealey Plaza. Needless, to say the concert was canceled. Dale and Grace, and the other performers, were staying at a hotel right near Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination. Lists of the noteworthy people who were alleged to have been in Dallas on that day do not include Dale and Grace, who were in the midst of a two week run at the top of the charts.

There was a period of 79 days between the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and the wildly famous appearance of the four Liverpudlians on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 8, 1963 in which young people could sense the stagnancy in the morale of the country. Many children were forced to watch the unfolding drama in Dallas and the president’s funeral when they would have rather been outside playing with friends. This 79 day interim after the tragic assassination ended “Kennedy 1960’s” ushered in among the younger generation and even some adults a feeling of youth, fun, and positive energy that was conspicuously absent in the soul of the country during the dark 79 day period. The Beatles were obviously ready to move on after opening for Trini Lopez in Paris during that time period. The United States was ripe for their energetic live national television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show to say the least.