By Richie Unterberger

When More Trini Lopez at PJ's was issued by Reprise near the end of 1963, Trini Lopez could have hardly been a hotter artist. His Trini Lopez at PJ's album (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), which unexpectedly blasted him to #2 on the LP charts earlier in 1963, was still riding high, and his version of "If I Had a Hammer" had given him a huge singles hit as well. Lopez had told producer Don Costa that he wanted an opportunity to go into the studio after recording the first At PJ's album, but for the time being that would have to wait. Not ones to tamper with success, his follow-up would again be recorded live, at the same club, with a similar mix of standards, folk tunes, rock'n'roll songs, and Latin music. And indeed, it would be nearly as popular as its predecessor, sailing to #11, although it was issued just a few months later.

    Ironically, Trini Lopez -- a pop singer who, more than any other of the time, made his name with albums recorded at nightclubs -- wanted to make records, in part, so that he didn't have to deal with the nightclub scene as much. "I didn't like to audition at nightclubs," he admits. "Nightclub owners have a tendency to be a little crass, and very rude. They think they're doing you a favor. I've always been a shy person, and I didn't like to do that. I felt that if I could just send 'em the album, mail it to 'em, bring it to 'em, leave it there, and let 'em listen, if they want me, they can call me. That's the only reason I wanted to record, not thinking that not only would I become famous in America, but overnight, famous all over the world. That was an unbelievable thing for me."

    But it was a live nightclub album that had gotten him on the map, and a live nightclub set that would be cut as his second LP. "Reprise and Don Costa told me just to do the same thing again, just do your numbers. And I did. Because I had a repertoire that you wouldn't believe. So I just did another show," he laughs, "'cause I was singing those songs anyway, every night at PJ's. I just did other songs, and they did the same idea, and it worked again."

    Once more, Lopez laid down a set with an enviably diverse range, from the cover of Don Gibson's country-pop classic "Oh Lonesome Me" and popular standards such as "Never on Sunday" and "Heart of My Heart" to the folk classic "Lonesome Traveler" and Jimmy Soul's 1963 chart-topping rock hit "If You Want to Be Happy." If Trini had taken on "If I Had a Hammer" just after Peter, Paul & Mary had made it into a national hit, there was nothing to stop him from giving a danceable beat to "Walk Right In," which had made #1 early that year for the Rooftop Singers. Whatever material Lopez took on, you could be assured that it would be given a swinging, danceable beat, a Latin-influenced lilt, and plenty of real-life encouragement by a partying live audience.

    When it came time to pick a single from the LP, however, Lopez and Reprise opted not for another folk cover, but for one of the hardest-rocking tracks, "Kansas City." As with "If I Had a Hammer," the singer was tackling a number that had already been a huge smash, as Wilbert Harrison had taken it to #1 in 1959. Lopez didn't match that feat, but his version did well enough, reaching #23.

    The At PJ's phase came to end after the release of this record, however, both because Lopez didn't want to stick with the live nightclub format for all his recordings, and because he was outgrowing the PJ's venue itself. Plenty of people were probably expecting yet another live club date for his third Reprise LP, and "I could have done another one," he confirms. "I didn't want to. I said, 'No, no. You told me I could go into a studio, remember?' And I begged Don Costa to let us go into the studio. So we did, and all those albums that I did in those days were hit albums, even the ones in the studio." Plus Lopez was not going to play PJ's the rest of his life, not when audiences around the world were clamoring for him, and especially since, as he tells it, "I went from $250 a week to $10,000 a night the minute I left PJ's." At one of his early prestige gigs, in early 1964 at the Paris Olympia, he shared the bill with the Beatles, just weeks before they made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

    The gap for live albums with a rocking yet intimate sound would soon be filled by Johnny Rivers. He emulated Lopez's At PJ's approach, with more rock-oriented material, on the mid-1960s hit LPs he cut live at the another Hollywood nightclub, the Whisky a Go Go. "He used to come see me at PJ's all the time, and then he went as far as to take [drummer] Mickey Jones away from me," Trini remembers. "He paid him more money. So Johnny came in with Mickey, and he did 'La Bamba' [which Lopez had done on Trini Lopez at PJ's] and all those songs. I used to get calls from people: 'Trini, we got Johnny Rivers trying to do you and we think he is a poor man's Trini Lopez.' But he's very talented."

    By then Lopez had played a noted, if overlooked, role in bringing the folk, rock, and pop worlds just that little bit closer together. When told that Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane cited Lopez's combination of electric instruments and folk songs as an inspiration for deciding to play folk-rock, Trini responds, "The reason he probably said that is because I did start that out. I was doing it in '61, '62, until I recorded. Nobody was doing it in 1962. So I was right there at the beginning of that. That's a nice compliment." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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