Cannibal & the Headhunters Hit 'Land of a Thousand Dances' Born in Fullerton

Categories: retrospection
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Richard "Scar" Lopez, of the popular 1960s East Los Angeles-based vocal group Cannibal & the Headhunters, passed away last month in a convalescent home in Garden Grove. News reports of his death at the age of 65 didn't hit the wires until Thursday when the band's comeback manager Gene Aguilera revealed that the singer lost his battle with lung cancer. (Here is the obituary from the L.A. Times.) Lopez, along with brothers Bobby and Jojo Jaramillo, backed lead vocalist Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia in the group that scored a hit rendition of "Land of a Thousand Dances." 


The song propelled Cannibal & the Headhunters beyond the frontiers of East Los Angeles and into the national spotlight. Their cover of the Chris Kenner song spent fourteen weeks on the Billboard Top 100 in 1965 and topped out at #30. It helped the group open for touring acts no less than the Beatles. Although "Scar" Lopez's death on July 30 brings a musical chapter of Cannibal & the Headhunters to a close in Orange County, a little known story about their hit single that brought them to prominence also has its roots in OC.

Many groups at the time were performing "Land of a Thousand Dances" as part of their set lists, but an iconic phrase coined by improvisation and incorporated thereafter helped Cannibal and the Headhunters distinguish themselves from the pack. As the book Chicano Soul: Recordings & History of an American Culture by Ruben Molina notes, Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia and the band were in Fullerton when the unintended magic occurred. 

"We started doing 'Land of a Thousand Dances' the way Chris Kenner did it, then while we were rehearsing at the Rhythm Room in Fullerton it all changed," Bobby Jaramillo reveals in the book. "The band started playing and Frankie went blank, the band kept going over the intro and then he finally started going na, na, na, na, na...na, na, na, na, na, na." 


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