Sad news for garage rockers, soul men, and R&B lovers everywhere: Richard ‘Scar’ Lopez, guitarist of Cannibal and the Headhunters, passed away after fighting lung cancer yesterday. He was 65.
More on Lopez, and a brief history of Cannibal and the Headhunters, after the jump.
Like so many others, their band did not enjoy long-lasting success, at least, not of the career variety. Instead, Lopez, along with Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia, Lopez, Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo and his brother, Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo, formed Cannibal and the Headhunters in 1965 East L.A., and performed the frat rock classic “Land of 1000 Dances,” which was originally penned by Chris Kenner in ’62. But like the Kingsmen before them, the Headhunters added something to the original that gave it a distinctive boost, the infectious sing-along “Na na na na” chorus. They also added a steadily stewing, soulful rhythm, and loud horn section blasts, spent 14 weeks on the Billboard top 100 chart, peaked at number 30. Wilson Pickett would take their version of the song, speed it up by, oh, a hundred miles per hour, and make it an even bigger hit, blowing the Headhunters out of the water and into relative obscurity. Still, Cannibal and the Headhunters enjoyed the perks of having a hit song, including having the opportunity to open for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles (at the legendary Shea Stadium shows!), as well as making appearances on programs like Hullabaloo and American Bandstand.
After Lopez left the band over a disagreement with manager Eddie Davis (founder of Rampart Records), Cannibal and the Headhunters continued as a trio; Lopez, meanwhile, opted for a private life, and took up jobs in landscaping.
In 1996, when Frankie Garcia passed away, Lopez reunited with the Jaramillo brothers for a few gigs, including their induction into the Chicano Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since then, the band, under Lopez’ direction, continued playing small gigs around the Los Angeles area until 2004, with a revolving list of replacements for ‘Cannibal’ Garcia, as well as ‘Yo Yo’ Jaramillo, when he passed away in 2000.
Nowadays, “Land of 1000 Dances” is among the gold standards of cover songs for any good garage/soul/R&B band to play, and it has been covered by garage and punk bands as legendary as the Gories, the Rezillos, and the Residents; as diverse as Ted Nugent, and Thee Midniters; classic acts like Little Richard, and Sam and Dave; and it was even included in a bizarre special recorded by the (then) World Wrestling Federation wrestlers. There’s also a few stray songs based on, or in reference to, the original “Land of 1000 Dances,” including King Khan the Shrines “Land of the Freak.”
RIP, Richard Scar Lopez.
Below, a few videos of the best versions of “Land of 1000 Dances.”
The original, by Cannibal and the Headhunters.
Wilson Pickett, Live in ’66. I believe he’s performing in Ghana.
The version by the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent. This version ranked as high as 47 on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock chart in 1981.
The Action’s version, a little closer to the Headhunters version. For some reason, this video features 50’s pin-up icon and inspiration for alternative girls everywhere, Betty Page.
Ike and Tina, doing Wilson’s version, including the iconic “ONE TWO THREE!” double count, and the pleas for help from the crowd. I want to say this was on the Smothers Brothers show.
The Mummies version, blazing right through it.
Patti Smith’s version, from her album Horses. Don’t let the spoken word intro fool you, it’s in there.
And, finally, the Gories, showing you how it’s done.
And, finally finally, King Khan and the Shrines doing “Land of the Freak,” a track obvious indebt to “Land of 1000 Dances,” but no less awesome on its own.