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Artist Biography: Cannibal and the Headhunters

Headhunters

Introduction

One of the pioneers of the Los Angeles’ “East Side Sound,” Cannibal and the Headhunters achieved their only big hit “Land of a Thousand Dances” in 1965. The group composed of all Mexican-American members Frankie Garcia, Joe Jaramillo, Richard Lopez and Robert Jaramillo. Originally performed by Chris Kenner in 1963, the group’s version became a big hit in 1965, peaking at #30 on the the Billboard Hot 100. It also became a phenomenal hit for gaining success outside the US. Follow-up singles were commercial disappointments which led the group to dissolution in the late 60’s.

Cannibal & the Headhunters’ beginning

They were formed in 1964 with members Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo, Richard “Scar” Lopez and Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo. Scar and Rabbit founded the group. When they sang together for the first time, they knew they had something special. “Cannibal” got his name from his older brother Art’s gang name, “Placa“. He became the leader of the group because he was flamboyant and good at showmanship. They liked r&b and doo-wop, and black groups like the Temptations and the Olympics were their inspirations. 

They were eventually discovered by Eddie Davies, owner and founder of Rampart Records. Formerly known as the Bobby and the Classics, Cannibal and the Headhunters were considered as one of the first Mexican-American acts who helped define LA’s “East Side Sound.” After a successful audition with Eddie Davis, the owner of Rampart Records, he suggested that they change their name to “Cannibal & the Headhunters.”

After a successful career in the music industry, Frankie Garcia, known as “Cannibal,” retired in 1983. He subsequently handed over the reins of Cannibal and the Headhunters to Robert Zapata, who had been a member of the group since 1969 and continues to perform with the band to this day. They came from East Los Angeles’ Ramona Gardens and Estrada Courts Housing Projects. They were inspired by the African American doo-wop groups in their neighborhoods. Garcia went to high school at Andrew Jackson High. He often started singing as he walked around campus. After performing, touring, and recording together for a period of 18 months, Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia decided to hire two new background singers, Eddie Serrano and George Ochoa, to join Cannibal and the Headhunters as the new members of the band. (1)

Cannibal and the Headhunters’ hit “The Land of Thousand Houses”

The Midniters, who were probably the most popular Eastside band at the time, recorded it first, but Cannibal & the Headhunters were the ones who got it on the national charts. The story of how they recorded the song is a story all by itself. The backing tracks were going to be done by Cannibal’s old band, the Rhythm Playboys, but Eddie Davis and Billy Cardenas, who was in charge of the band, had a conflict. Most stories say that Billy left the studio with the band, leaving Eddie to run studio time with his vocal group. He called up the Blendells, whose song “La La La La La” had been a hit. When they got the call, it was 11 p.m., and the Blendells were practicing for a Dick Clark tour. They packed up and went to the studio, cutting the song into four takes. The beat was inspired by “Fingertips” by Stevie Wonder. (2) 

The song “Land of the Thousand Houses” was written and recorded in 1963 by the R&B singer Chris Kenner. In 1965 on Rampart Records, it was later re-recorded by the Cannibal and the Headhunters and added the catchy “na na na na na” hook which the song became famous for, gaining international success. It reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in that same year. 

After achieving a hit record, they went on the road with the Motown Revue and played with Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, and the Four Tops. They played in New York’s “Murray the K” shows with the Temptations, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Tom Jones, and Peter & Gordon, among others. They also went on Dick Clark tours and were on the rock and roll variety show “Hullabaloo,” which was shown on national TV. Paul McCartney reportedly saw Cannibal & the Headhunters on “Hullabaloo” and wanted them on the tour. 

The Cannibal and the Headhunters performed at a concert on May 7, 1965, for WVOK with the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers, and Marty Robbins at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Three months later, Paul McCartney asked Garcia and his band to join the Beatles on tour from August 15 to August 31, 1965, at Shea Stadium in New York and at the Hollywood Bowl in California. (3) On the strength of the singles, they earned a performance at the famous Shea Stadium, supporting the Beatles. They also played as an opening act for other bands as well. 

Cannibal & the Headhunters went on to record a few more albums and singles, but they did not hit the charts again. “Scar” had left the group during the Beatles tour because his girlfriend wanted him to go home. The other three kept going and eventually parted ways in 1967. George Ochoa and Eddie Serrano teamed up with Cannibal to form a new backing band, operating out of New York City. (2) Their success proved to be brief that they were considered as a one hit wonder band from the 60s music era. William Picket’s version of “Land of the Thousand Dances” was the highest-ranking version which climbed to #6 on the national chart in 1966.

Death of members

Cannibal and the Headhunters, like many other bands, experienced their fair share of difficulties, including internal disagreements and shifts in the members of their band lineup, which ultimately resulted in the band’s breakup in the late 1960s. Over the years, some of the members may have passed away due to various reasons; 49-year old Garcian died in 1996. Jaramillo died in 2000 while Lopez passed away due to lung cancer on July 30, 2010. He was 65 years old.  

Cannibal and the Headhunters discography (may be partial)

Rampart Records (Jan 1965)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances
  • B: I’ll Show You How to Love Me

(May 1965)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Nau Ninny Nau
  • B: Here Comes Love

(Sep 1965)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Follow The Music
  • B: I Need Your Loving

 Date Records

(Jul 1966)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: La Bamba
  • B: Zulu King

(Jul 1966)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of a Thousand Dances
  • B: Love Bird

 Aires Records

(Aug 1968)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Means So Much
  • B: Dance By the Light

Capitol Records

(Jan 1968)

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Get In on Up (Get up the Courage)
  • B: Mean So Much

 Treasure Chest Records

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances
  • B: I’ll Show You How to Love Me

 Era Records [Back to Back Hits Series]

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances

The Blendells

  • B: Dance with Me

 Hi-Oldies Records

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances
  • B: Not Known

 Collectables Records

Larry Verne

  • A: Mr. Custer

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • B: Land Of 1000 Dances

 Original Sound Oldies But Goodies Records

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances

Bobby Curtola

  • B: Fortune Teller

 Ripete Records

Cannibal and the Headhunters

  • A: Land of 1000 Dances

Beach Boys

  • B: Surfer Girl

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References:

(1) Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 405/6. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.

(2) https://markguerrero.net/10.php

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibal_%26_the_Headhunters#cite_note-LarkinGE-3

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