This Land is Your Land
Upon learning of the passing of the great Trini Lopez last month, a childhood memory emerged that put this column into a unique perspective for yours truly. Those of you that have followed this space for the past 29 years, know the history, but to those of you newcomers, it bears repeating that the torch was passed to me from my late father, Perry Phillips, Oakland Tribune Night Sounds columnist from 1962 until his passing in 1991.
The year was 1965 and Perry was headed up to the acclaimed Cal Neva Lodge in California and Nevada to catch Trini Lopez’s debut in the big showroom. The venue was notable as the legendary Frank Sinatra purchased the resort with Dean Martin and Sam Giancana in 1960, adding the famed Celebrity Room.
My sister and I (ages 10 and 11) tagged along for the fun and it was our first time ever leaving California. The lodge/casino straddled the border between California and Nevada. I recalled us both entertaining ourselves by jumping back and forth between the line on the sidewalk that marked both states. To think one could just jump into another state like that was quite a thrill!
Trini Lopez, known for such hits as “If I Had A Hammer,” “Lemon Tree” and “This Land Is Your Land,” was warm, engaging, and entertaining both on stage and off. The excitement in the showroom marked the beginning of many front row seats with our dad for the next two-plus decades that followed. My mother meticulously saved all of his columns, scrapbooking them during the span of his 29-year career for which I’m extremely grateful and cherish the history they preserve.
Today, I share the review my dad penned on that Trini Lopez performance which was published in the Oakland Tribune on July 20, 1965. Having seen Lopez appear in the casino’s lounge prior to his debut in the Celebrity Showroom, makes Perry’s review that more insightful. Incidentally, we also attended the Danny Thomas show at Harrah’s Tahoe during that indoctrinating weekend.
Trini Lopez was a singer, guitarist, and an actor (The Dirty Dozen, Adam-12). He died on August 11, 2020, in Palm Springs, California at the age of 83, from complications of Covid-19. May he rest in peace and may you enjoy the trip down memory lane.
By Perry Phillips
Drove up to Cal Neva Lodge over the weekend to take in the Trini Lopez show. I particularly wanted to see Trini work the big room at Cal Neva, for he broke in on the nightery circuit in the lodge’s lounge. That was two years ago, and Trini made a believer of me from that stint on. Before he ended the lounge engagement, he was packing it nightly to the point where the maître d’ had to admit patrons by reservation only. On this return engagement, he’s also filling the larger Celebrity Room.
Trini has made a successful transition from a lounge to a supper club performance. Don Costa has provided him with some excellent musical arrangements that add a lot of new sound to his performance while also capturing the inimitable Lopez style. Opening with a rousing “Granada” – without his guitar incidentally – he “has” his audience almost immediately, for that famous Lopez smile has also made the transition to the big room. He scores solidly with ballads from his new “Love” album with fine backing from the Matty Malneck orchestra.
By the time Trini picks up the guitar for his well-known sing-a-longs, the audience is ready to join in. The packed room booms with “Goody Goody” (which Malneck wrote), “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and “Heart of my Heart.” All are old-timers, to be sure, but now completely acceptable to a new generation, thanks to Trini. Very few supper club performers can get the response Trini does from audience participation. It’s the rule rather than the exception with him. He had the Celebrity Room audience calling for requests and encores and completely devastated the room with his “La Bamba.” It was by far the finest Lopez performance I’ve seen.
After the show, we talked at length about his future on the nightery circuit, upcoming movie roles, television appearances and record dates. Trini pointed out that his next appearance in this area will probably be a one-night concert in San Francisco. With his heavy schedule, nightery dates in this area are not likely in the immediate future. A little more than two years ago, he was earning $300 a week at PJ’s in Los Angeles. Then came the stint in Cal Neva’s lounge that helped him become one of the hottest attractions on the nightery circuit. Today, his weekly income is in five figures.
How has all this affected him? Not a bit, as far, as I can see. He’s still the same warm vibrant, appreciative guy from Dallas he’s always been. Like any other naïve Texas boy, he’s learning a few things about show business and he’s learning fast. Trini Lopez is riding a winner and is aware of it. Fame is nice; knowing how to handle it is even nicer. So far, Trini has handled it well. It is reflected not only in his person, but in his performance as well.
PUBLISHED IN THE EAST BAY TIMES SEPTEMBER 17, 2020