Richard 'Scar' Lopez, founder of Cannibal & the Headhunters, dies
LOS ANGELES — Richard “Scar” Lopez, a founding member of Cannibal&the Headhunters, the East Los Angeles vocal group that scored a hit in the mid-1960s with “Land of 1000 Dances,” has died. He was 65.
Lopez died of lung cancer July 30 in a convalescent hospital in Garden Grove, said Gene Aguilera, who managed the group a decade ago during its local comeback.
They were four high school students in East L.A. — Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia, Lopez, Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo and his brother, Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo — when they emerged on the national music scene in 1965.
14 weeks on Top 100
The Cannibal&the Headhunters version of “Land of 1000 Dances” — with Cannibal’s signature “Naa na na na naa” phrase — spent 14 weeks on Billboard’s Top 100.
“I remember we were cruising Whittier Boulevard in Bobby’s ’49 Chevy and (disc jockey) Huggy Boy plays our song,” Lopez recalled in a 2005 interview with LA Weekly. “And we were going crazy, going ballistic on Whittier telling everyone to put their radio on.”
Hector Gonzalez, the current owner of Rampart Records, whose late founder, Eddie Davis, discovered and recorded the group, said, “They were basically a one-hit wonder, but that record left an indelible mark in the history of American rock ‘n’ roll.
“They gave pride and dignity to the Mexican American community because of their contribution to not only rock ’n’ roll but the success they achieved.”
In 1965, Cannibal&the Headhunters appeared on “American Bandstand,” “Hullabaloo,” “Shebang” and other TV shows, and they opened for the Rolling Stones, the Righteous Brothers and other acts, including the Beatles during their U.S. tour that year.
After the Headhunters opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards “came backstage to tell us how good we were,” Lopez told LA Weekly.
Lopez, however, did not participate in the Beatles’ concerts in California. Davis, who served as Cannibal&the Headhunters’ producer and manager, had told the group he didn’t want any of them gambling with the Beatles and others in the back of the plane.
But while Davis was napping as they headed to Los Angeles, Lopez told LA Weekly, “I was determined to get in that game.”
When Davis woke up, Lopez recalled, “he stormed back there and started yelling at me in front of everyone. I’m from East L.A., and I don’t take that from nobody. So we never spoke to each other ever again. I was so angry at him for embarrassing me in front of the Beatles that I made up my mind right then and there that I would not continue on the tour.”
Gonzalez, who interviewed Lopez for an upcoming documentary on the history of Rampart Records, said Lopez “never came back” to the group after the incident with Davis, despite reports that he left over a money dispute.
Band after Lopez
Cannibal&the Headhunters continued as a trio after Lopez left and broke up in 1967.
Lopez, who Gonzalez said later overcame a drug problem, held a number of jobs after leaving the group, including landscaping parks in the city of Los Angeles.
In 1996, the year Garcia died, Lopez and the Jaramillo brothers reunited for a performance at the Chicano Music Awards in Pasadena, where they were inducted into the Chicano Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Gonzalez said the group continued to perform occasionally in Southern California until 2004, with replacements for Garcia and Joe Jaramillo, who died in 2000.