If I Had a Trini
Last week, The Dirty Dozen's returned on DVD in a double-disc special edition--which wouldn't mean much to Unfair Park (well, it is one of my dad's favorite movies) except it stars one of the most popular entertainers ever to come out of Dallas, Trini Lopez. Not that you'd know it today: When I recently couldn't find my copy of the classic 1963 album Trini Lopez at PJ's, I called Borders Books and Music and Barnes & Noble to see if they stocked the disc. It's not obscure by any stretch: It hit No. 2 on the charts when released, resided in the Top 40 for most of 1963 and spawned a hit with Lopez's swingin' version of "If I Had a Hammer." But neither store had any love for the prodigal son; the girl at Borders even thought Trini ("Is that Triny?") was a woman, and when corrected, she snorted, "Whatever."
Lopez turned 69 on May 15 and has, for the most part, retired from show business save for the occasional gig and overseas release. He's living in the California desert now, satisfied with the stack of hits (among them "Lemon Tree" and his versions of "America" from West Side Story and "La Bamba") and the stage he shared with the Beatles in 1964 and the Time magazine cover he shared in 1965 with the likes of the Beach Boys and the Supremes.
"I didn't get tired," he says. "I got bored with traveling all over the world. I've been everywhere, man, everywhere. And I just wanted to cool it and come to my beautiful home here in Palm Springs and do nothing but sleep late and play tennis and golf." Nonetheless, he says, he's begun work on his 62nd album.
Last week, he called to discuss The Dirty Dozen DVD, to which he contributes some commentary and a few insights included on a new making-of documentary. But he also got around to discussing growing up in Dallas' Little Mexico, being the uncle of former Bedhead drummer Trini Martinez (named for Lopez's father) and a recording career that includes sharing a label (King Records) with the same artists who recorded one of the greatest songs of all time, "Sixty Minute Man."
On the DVD commentary track, Jim Brown says you're the first of The Dirty Dozen to die in the movie because Frank Sinatra, your pal and the man for whom you were recording at the time, told you to demand more lines from director Robert Aldrich and that Aldrich decided, nope, and had you die in the parachuting accident. But that's not what happened, is it?
The truth of the matter is that Sinatra wanted me to go back on the road, 'cause I was selling millions of records for him at that time on Reprise. He was a businessman, and my contract for the movie was for four months, and I was there an extra three--and the picture was not even half-0completed because of the bloody weather in England. So Sinatra came to London--he had just married Mia Farrow--and he invited me to dinner at his flat, and before I left he said, "Trini, I understand your movie is running really late. Well, I think you should go back on the road. You're as hot as a firecracker, and you should go back with your career," and I said OK. He was my mentor--Sinatra was like my dad, and he took me under his wing for a long time.
Some suggest on the DVD you regretted the decision almost immediately.
I didn't regret it right away, but I sort of regretted in the last 10, 15 years. I never thought the picture was going to be such a big hit. In fact, Charles Bronson said, "Trini, do you know what you're doing?" and I said, "Yeah, I think so." I was supposed to be a hero at the end, but because I left I didn't get a chance to do my full part. I was supposed to ignite all of the wiring for the explosion that set the whole chateau on fire..I ignited the whole thing, and I go up with it. It's a good part, but I had a great time being in the movie. And Tom Hanks mentioned in Sleepless in Seattle about me dying in The Dirty Dozen, remember that?
I think that's one of the few things I remember from that movie. One thing I always forget is in what part of town did you grow up?
A little area called Little Mexico, near Harry Hines and Ashland, on a street called Alamo, can you believe it? It was a Mexican and black ghetto. Many years after I left, I would go and see what the place looked like, and there's a lot of industrial buildings there now, but in my day it was a black and Mexican ghetto. The Mexicans were killing the blacks, and the blacks were killing the Mexicans, and--oh, gosh--they had a cantina a half a block from my house, and I used to hear all this screaming and hollering 24 hours a day and all the drinking and the killings and the knifings. All of my friends that I used to run around with, they all ended up dead from shotgun wounds or ended up in prison.
How did you end up playing the local nightclubs?
My father was a singer, an actor and a dancer when he was a young man, and because of my dad I became who I became because I was running around with the wrong crowd. And he says, "Son, I want you to come home when I come home from work," on the third time that I didn't pay attention, he took his belt off and gave me a real good whipping.
And he felt so bad he bought you a guitar, right?
That whipping it changed my whole life. All of my friends were mad at me, 'cause I wouldn't go running around with them all over the place. I was practicing at home, 'cause I fell in love with the guitar right away. I fell in love with music right away, so thank God that I did that. --Robert Wilonsky
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.