Vini Lopez, Caddie & Drummer, Bound For Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
By Mike Moretti
It’s finally starting to sink in that, yes, Vini Lopez, former caddie master at Deal Golf & Country Club and assistant caddie master at Hollywood Golf Club in Deal, IS going into the Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that is.
Lopez, who continues to caddie for pro Mark McCormick of Suburban and was on his bag in the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, was a rocker before he was a caddie.
Lopez will be inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame on April 10 as a member of the famed E Street Band, the group that has backed legendary Bruce Springsteen.
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Both Lopez and Springsteen, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, grew up at the Jersey Shore – Lopez in Neptune and Springsteen in Freehold – and the pair found each other in the late 1960s in Asbury Park, then - and now – a mecca for music.
In fact, it was Lopez and organist Danny Federici who recruited Springsteen to join their band, Child, later called Steel Mill, in 1968. As part of the original E- Street Band, Lopez was a drummer and backing vocalist on Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle.
“This will be my 50th year playing music. I started in 1964 at age 15. When I started out, we had the Beatles and the (Rolling) Stones, and you wanted to be like them and all of a sudden, you’re in a band. Then that band breaks up and you’re in another band and you have to learn all new songs, and it happens again,” said Lopez who recently turned 65.
“It’s a process that constantly happens. Then I get kicked out of the E-Street Band. I immediately got into another band and kept playing ever since. I’ve never had any regrets.”
A dispute over money with Springsteen’s agent precipitated his firing from the band.
“When they first built the Hall of Fame in 1995, everyone kept saying, ‘The E-Street Band is going in and you’re going with them.’ Last month, I finally got the e-mail and it was “Wow!”
“Then a representative from the Hall came to my house for memorabilia. I gave him scrapbooks, my coronet that I played on The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle, and an old cardigan from my hippie days. And he took some of my pictures from the U.S. Open and my caddie badges, too.
“So it IS really happening.”
Lopez still considers Springsteen a friend. “The Boss” recently called him to remind him he needed a tuxedo for the induction ceremony. Over the years, Springsteen has had Lopez, nicknamed “Mad Dog” sit in with the band at major venues.
He played with Springsteen and the E-Street Band several times at Giants Stadium, on opening night at the New MetLife Stadium, and another time in 2009, the final night of The Spectrum arena in Philadelphia.
The one he will never forget was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1989 when Springsteen was the presenter for Roy Orbison. He invited Lopez to attend the event with him. Lopez ended up on stage as the drummer for a 40-minute set with the likes of Mick Jaggar, Springsteen, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Hall and Oates and a host of others.
“I’m looking forward to the induction. I’ll be sharing the stage with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, sharing the billing with all these guys. I think of how many musicians there are in the world, and how few actually get into the Hall of Fame.”
He goes in with other E-Street members: saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Federici, Garry Tallent and David Sancious, original E-Streeters with Lopez, and current members Stevie Van Zandt, Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, drummer Max Weinberg, Tallent and singer Patti Scialfa, Springsteen’s wife.
The band took its name from the street in Belmar where Sancious' mother lived.
Also being inducted April 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be Nirvana, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt.
Lopez still performs with his band License to Chill and plays many songs Springsteen wrote for Steel Mill.
As for the golf side of Lopez’s life, that first happened during his college days at Monmouth University in the late ‘60s when he met Joey Lanzetta, brother of current pro Mike Lanzetta of Mansfield Learning Center, who was then working at nearby Colonial Terrace in Ocean Township.
“I was getting pretty good at the game, playing the Monmouth County courses, Colonial Terrace, Spring Meadow and Woodlake. I got down to an 11 handicap.
“At Colonial Terrace I ran into Jimmy Linkin, who was an assistant pro at Hollywood. Next thing I know, I’m sitting in the pro shop, answering phones, because (pro) Larry Mullen had left. I would also caddie on occasion. Next, Mike Killian takes over as pro and I’m in the bag room. The GM found out I could repair windows and hang doors, so I had more things to keep me busy there.”
He also spent six years as caddie master at Deal.
He also met McCormick at Hollywood and has been on his bag for 29 years. Lopez was the caddie at Canoe Brook on June 4, 2012, when McCormick shot 4-under-138 and was one of four players to come through sectional qualifying and earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
“Vini has always been a legend to me. He keeps me loose. He has good knowledge of the sport,” McCormick said. "We respect each other so much, and we really play off each other.
“Usually you want your caddie to be calm and Vini is the opposite. He's so jumpy, and yet he relaxes me in a funny way. I tell myself, 'Just don't be like him and you'll be fine.'"
When McCormick got to Olympic Club, he discovered his practice partner was none-other-than Phil Mickelson, a fellow lefty.
"When you're on stage at Giants Stadium with Bruce," Lopez said, "the lights are on us and it's total darkness in the crowd. You don't see the people, you hear them. At Olympic, when you’re walking around with Phil, you'll get to see them all. The people are right there. I don’t get nervous because I’ve been with big crowds before in different situations. All I did was take care of my business with Mark."
Lopez said Mickelson, his caddie Bones (Jim Mackay), Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar all approached him to talk about his a rock and roll background.
“It was really great. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget. I always believed Mark would get to the U.S. Open one day.”
Lopez said his fame is growing. He was invited to Rimini, Italy, last summer for a rock and roll “Glory Days” festival and was treated like a celebrity. He spoke at a press conference in which 600 people attended.
“They wanted to know about the old days, when we ate avocado and onion sandwiches, hot dogs and ring-dings. When we came back from California in 1970, all we had to eat was oatmeal and honey.”
He even had the occasion to once reminisce with Pete Best, who Ringo Starr replaced in the Beatles.
“The difference was he stopped playing for a while. I never stopped. I’ve been playing every week of my life,” said Lopez who occasionally appears at autograph shows.
Following a trip to the actual Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the induction ceremony in April, Lopez will be heading to Florida for some relaxation, some golf, and of course, some more music.
“I’ll never stop playing. Not until I can’t do it anymore. And it’s the same thing with caddieing. I’ll do it forever. Those two things go in conjunction together. Those are the things I’ve got to do. They keep me young.”
“I’ve always said, I’m running in place when I’m drumming and I’m walking five miles when I’m caddieing for Mark.”