His groundbreaking mix of sounds connected with listeners right from the start, with his debut album, “Live at PJ’s,” recorded at a popular Los Angeles nightclub and released in 1963. The disc went gold, fueled by the success of “If I Had a Hammer.” The album also featured a version of “La Bamba,” the traditional Mexican song that another pioneering Latin rocker, Ritchie Valens, had turned into a Top 40 hit five years earlier.
He racked up other Top 40 hits with “Kansas City” and “I’m Coming Home, Cindy.” He made Billboard magazine’s adult contemporary Top 40 15 times.
Not only a singer, Mr. Lopez was an accomplished guitar player, leading the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1964 to invite him to design two instruments, both of which became collector’s items. Decades later, star guitarists like Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Noel Gallagher of Oasis employed vintage versions of those instruments.
Trinidad Lopez III was born on May 13, 1937, in Dallas. His father, Trinidad II, was a singer, dancer and musician in the ranchera style but made his living as a manual laborer. As a teenager, the elder Mr. Lopez had married Petra Gonzales in their hometown, Morolean, in central Mexico, before moving to Dallas, where they had six children.
The family lived in a poor area of the city known as Little Mexico, where Trini attended elementary school. When he was 11, his father bought him a $12 guitar from a pawnshop and taught him to play. “That was the biggest reward of my life,” he said.
Trini began performing for coins on street corners, playing traditional Mexican songs, including “La Bamba.” At the same time, he took inspiration from the hits of African-American blues artists like T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed, as well as early rockers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.