There’s a graciousness to conversation with Trini Lopez that flies in the face of today’s sound-bite-driven, self-obsessed world of showbiz.
“May I tell you a story?” he asks, and the pause lengthens to the point where you realize the question is sincere.
Lopez, who makes his Rrazz Room debut this week, has many stories to tell from both before and after his debut album — filled with hits such as “La Bamba” and “If I Had a Hammer” — made him a name a half-century ago.
He relishes the telling. Born to immigrant parents, young Trinidad experienced racism and hostility in a Dallas barrio. Rather than buckle to the hardships, he made himself a promise.
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to come to California because I’m a big movie fan and, of course, a music fan,” he says, adding, “My father was a singer and a dancer and actor in Mexico.”
The young Lopez was working in “a little raunchy nightclub in Wichita Falls, Texas, of all places” when a meeting with Buddy Holly was arranged through a local DJ, who was a friend from Dallas.
“Buddy was there doing this friend of mine’s show on the radio promoting one of his songs.” The friend persuaded Holly to come hear Lopez perform.
“After the show,” Lopez recalls Holly told his friend he would like to “meet this guy. He said, ‘I think I’d like to introduce him to my record producer.’”
Unfortunately, the producer wanted to Anglicize Lopez against his wishes. Things stalled further when Holly died in a plane crash, along with Richie Valens, who also had a hit with “La Bamba,” and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Months later, Holly’s band The Crickets invited Lopez to Los Angeles to record with them. The recordings never happened, but Lopez had made it to California and landed a solo nightclub gig.
His next good fortune arrived in the form of Francis Albert Sinatra. At the height of his Rat Pack fame, Frank Sinatra was impressed enough with the young singer to book him into a hotel he owned.
“That was ’61, going into ’62,” Lopez recalls. “He put me at the Cal Neva for the whole summer. I would be in the lounge and Sinatra was in the main room. He was in his prime and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis and everybody. It was really great.
“Sinatra was dating Marilyn Monroe and a lot of people don’t know that Sinatra dated Monroe. Did you know that?” Lopez asks sincerely, and another story begins.
IF YOU GO
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $40 to $45
Contact: (800) 380-3095, www.therrazzroom.com