A Chicano Music Legend

A Tribute to Cannibal and the Headhunters' Yo Yo

By lil Rudy G
Published on LatinoLA: September 28, 1999

A Chicano Music Legend

The Chicano influence on rock and roll is all but ignored today. The thinking seems to be that it jumps from Richie Valens to Livin' La Vida Loca, with Los Lobos and no one else in between. How wrong that is.

Recently, I attended a tribute to Yo Yo, one of the original members of Cannibal and the Headhunters. He is very ill with little time left to rock and roll. This was a gathering of many of his friends and band mates over the years to play and pay tribute to him and his contribution to the East Los Angeles Sound. The tribute was held at the Montebello Inn, just a block from the old Montebello Ballroom, where many shows were held right on Whittier Boulevard.

In attendance and on stage were The Premiers playing "Farmer John." The night they recorded this classic, they were so nervous while in the studio that one of the Premiers' dad had to go down to the studio at midnight with a case of beer and get them loaded to finally cut the version that was released. And yes, the "Chevelles" ? a girls fan club ? was there to scream, party, and make it sound like it was done live in a club. (Boy, who played guitar and sang vocals, taught me the words after his set?I've got his blessings to do it the next chance I get!)

The Blendells with "La La La La La" did a beautiful set. Original El Chicano guitarist Mickey Lespron played "Viva Tirado", backed by the Premiers while members of the Jaguars, Chan Romero, the Romancers, and Thee Midnighters watched.

Old time original East Side promoters Cardenas & Eddie Torres came on the mike, relating war tales of the bad old days between sets, like being shut down each night by the police and worthless (to the artists) contracts.

The "new" Cannibal and the Headhunters took the stage with the "Kid" taking Yo Yo's spot, making it all sound fresh, and even doing a lil' thing they did at the Hollywood Bowl in 1965 called the "Row Boat" ? hip to hip sliding on their asses from one end of the stage to the other. (They told me that they met Billy Preston, the 5th Beatle, in Hollywood. Preston had an R&B group and they helped them refine some of their "moves" for their stage performances.)

The show went on. Yo Yo was called up for what will probably be his final live performance. He gave it his all. There were big hugs from his band mates and the audience, tears of love and joy for a legend.

To think that they were a hit by the time they were seventeen years old, world-class performers on national tours, going toe to toe with many of the Motown groups as well as the Beatles in 1965. With their massive hit "Land of 1000 Dances," they had the world of music by the balls, straight out of the housing projects in East LA ? Chicano style! (They tell me that Brian Epstein himself, the Beatles' manager, came back stage every night to "demand" that they tone it down!! Sure, Brian!)

It's always a great loss when someone passes on, but it's so special to honor a musical treasure while they are alive. You go, Yo Yo, the stage belongs to you.

It was a great party and fitting tribute to another barrio legend. ?Qu? viva Xicano rockers! ?Qu? Viva our elders! ?Qu? Viva our contribution to the arts and the world of music!

Recognized or not, we have our place in history. We will continue to contribute and create, F*** 'em if they can't figure us out!

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