Gone, But Never Forgotten

East L.A.'s legendary Cannibal & the Headhunters

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: October 4, 2005

Gone, But Never Forgotten

As the Goddess of Ritmo smiles down upon us, we have a music legacy to be proud of as Chicanos, that has come back clearly into focus... and that is the focus of this piece today.

40 years ago, Chicanos from East L.A. broke the mold of stereotypical Mexican~American musicians and singers, and began performing and recording Rock & Roll in English, an innovation for it's time, re-introducing a Califas music style that was almost lost with the earlier demise of the late Ritchie Valens of Pacoima, California.

In 1965, a group of Chicano teenagers from the housing projects of East L.A. were suddenly thrust upon the World music scene, and with that thrust, forever cemented the "East Side Sound" into the annals of American music history. They also unknowingly opened many doors for Mexican~American music performers that hitherto were destined to stay locked and in the grip of a then power elite that controlled the American music scene, who didn't then think very highly of Mexican decendents in America.

That group was Cannibal and the Headhunters. Made up of young Chicanos barely out of high school, the members of this group set trends in many ways, from their style of hair & dress, to the use of their street monikers, to their original music style, and to their original showmanship, that has been emulated by a large number of performers ever since.

Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia, Joe "Yo-Yo" Jaramillo, Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo, and Richard "Scar" Lopez will forever be remembered as Cannibal and the Headhunters.

Forever the epitome of 1960's era Chicano rock & rollers, the first of their kind...

...forever "cool"...forever East Side...forever Chicano!

Hector Gonzalez of Rampart Records (last month's 'Spotlight on the Brown'), along with Emmy award winning cinematographer Jimmy Velarde, have produced a documentary movie "The West Coast East Side Sound", which now immortalizes "The Heads", as they have become known in East L.A. music circles, along with other pioneering Chicano rock & rollers from the west coast of Aztlan. "Just my way of letting the World know that Chicanos have been in the mix from the start, when it comes to rock & roll...and it's time we got the recognition denied us for so long", Hector told me recently.

Now, he has painstakingly delved into the original studio & live archive recordings of this remarkable group and has re-mastered and re-issued the original "Land of 1000 Dances" album , which now includes 6 bonus tracks. The sound is superb, the vocals coming at you loud & clear, with a quality that was unavailable in the recordings when they were made 40 years ago. You could only have heard it this good live, back in '65!

Here then, is an excerpt from the new CD liner notes by Bill Dahl;

"New Orleans R & B singer Chris Kenner originated "Land of 1000 Dances", but Cannibal & the Headhunters' immortal "naa-na-na-na-naa" chant made it an irresistable national destination in 1965.

Spearheads of the mighty East Side Sound that swept the Los Angeles Mexican-American community like a whirlwind during the mid-1960's, Cannibal and the Headhunters were products of two local housing projects. Robert "Rabbit" Jaramillo, his brother Joe (aka "Yo-Yo"), and Richard "Scar" Lopez hailed from Ramona Gardens, while Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia came from Estrada Courts, where he absorbed black doo-wop harmonies and fronted the Rythm Playboys prior to joining forces with the Jaramillos and Lopez.

Eddie Davis, owner of Rampart Records, the leading source for East Side rock platters, auditioned the young vocal group, then known as Bobby & the Classics, in the Jaramillo family's jam packed front room as they sang into a tiny microphone attached to an amp the size of a matchbox. Davis was blown away by their harmonies (they idolized the Temptations) and signed them immediately, suggesting a name change to Cannibal & The Headhunters.

The quartet's debut session at Stereo Masters studios in Hollywood wasn't a smooth affair. Davis was feuding with frequent collaborator Billy Cardenas, manager of the Rythm Playboys (who were slated to provide instrumental backing), and only their bassist, Billy Watson showed up. So, Eddie called The Blendells (he & Cardenas had co-produced their "La-la-la-la-la", a national hit that same year), and they zipped right over to the studio to supply the crucial rythmic pulse. (both bassists played).

Cannibal's "naa-na-na-na-naa" hook ~ improvised when he forgot the words at a gig but couldn't let the groove go ~ made "Land of 1000 Dances" an instant rock classic that flew to # 30 in the national 'Billboard' in early 1965, despite a competing version by fellow East Siders Thee Midniters on Chattahoochie Records.

This new collection also features the full length version of the Cannibal & The Headhunter's original masterpiece, which had been shortened after Rudy Benavides (who worked at Flash Music record store with DJ Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg) convinced Davis that the original pressing was too long for airplay.

East L.A. couldn't contain Cannibal and his boys after that. They appeared on Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Hollywood A go-go, and the Murray the K CBS TV special "It's what's happening, baby", where no less a stud Herman Munster cavorted to "Land of 1000 Dances". Murray brought them to New York to open for the Motown Revue at the Bronx Fox Theater, and they preceeded the Rolling Stones at Legion Field Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.

Most unforgettably, Cannibal and The Headhunters spent a couple of weeks opening for the Beatles on their 1965 North American Tour, including a 2 day Hollywood Bowl homecoming where they demonstarted their showstopping dance, the Rowboat, which they picked up from early mentor Billy Preston. Davis ordered 2 pairs of padded suit pants for each member to protect against splinters when they rowboated across stages on their rear ends!

Their encore 45 "Nau ninny nau", a sequel to "Land of 1000 Dances", bubbled under the Hot 100. Veteran saxman King Curtis (also on that Beatles tour) and his band backed the Headhunters on their 3rd Rampart single' "Follow the music". "Please baby, please", the quartet's Rampart farewell, was a Garcia original highlighting his doo-wop roots.

Lopez left the group towards the end of the Beatles tour, and by late 1967 it was all over for Cannibal & The Headhunters.

But their trademark "naa-na-na-na-naa" chant endures. Wilson Picket saw them at the Brooklyn Fox Theater, and when "The Wicked One" waxed Land of 1000 Dances the next year, he incorporated that irresistable hook.

It remains part of the rock lexicon, as do East Side Sound Legends Cannibal and The Headhunters!...many thanks to Hector Gonzalez for his many contributions to this release"...

* * * * * *

...and there it is, Mi Gente! Pick yourself up a piece of Chicano music history, available in your local record stores today, or if you can't find it 'cause they're all sold out, e-mail Hector Gonzalez at : hector4rampart@yahoo.com

...and tell him you heard it from Frankie Firme and LatinoLA.com!

About Frankie Firme:
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