Gary James' Interview With Richard "Scar" Lopez of
Cannibal And The Headhunters

In the mid 1960s Cannibal And The Headhunters enjoyed great success with a song they recorded called "Land Of A Thousand Dances". That song led to some incredible experiences in the music business.

We'll let original Cannibal And The Headhunters member Richard "Scar" Lopez explain.

Q - Richard, who put this group together and in what year?

A - It was me and Bobby Jaramillo. Well, his nickname was "Rabbit." We all had nicknames. Probably in '63. There was a black group in the projects where we grew up in Ramona Garden Projects, but, I don't know if you want to know all that. You just asked who put it together.

Q - Right. So, you were always known as Cannibal And The Headhunters?

A - No. We were first Bobby And The Classics when we first started in '63.

Q - What kind of material were you performing?

A - We were just doing the oldies, mostly Motown. We modeled ourselves after Motown quite a lot.

Q - You played where?

A - Just around the neighborhood.

Q - At schools, bars?

A - Yeah.

Q - Your big song "Land Of A Thousand Dances" was written by Fats Domino?

A - Chris Kenner and Fats Domino.

Q - Did either one of them enjoy any success with the song?

A - No. I think Chris Kenner put it out in '62 if I'm not mistaken. Somewhere around there. It was more of a bluesy "Land Of A Thousand Dances". It's nice. I like it.

Q - Is that how you heard about it?

A - No. We were Bobby And The Classics. We brought in Bobby's brother Joe. His nickname was "Yo-Yo". Then we brought in my brother Pete. He's the only one who didn't have a nickname then. Pete dropped out. Then Tommy Keys came into the picture. We didn't even know Cannibal yet. As I said, we were Bobby And The Classics. Then, probably around early '64, Tommy Keys dropped out and we got introduced to Frankie Garcia, nicknamed Cannibal. From then on we were called Cannibal And The Headhunters.

Q - So, there really was a Cannibal and you were one of the Headhunters?

A - Right.

Q - Is Frankie Garcia in the present line-up of the band?

A - No. He's passed away.

Q - Who's doing Frankie's lead these days?

A - We've got a guy called Greg (Esparza). His nickname is "The Gint".

Q - What did Frankie die from?

A - AIDS. He was gay. Then Bobby's brother "Yo-Yo" passed away too.

Q - What did he die of?

A - From liver...but that's from drinking. His liver just dissolved.

Q - I guess at the time that's what a lot of groups did to pass the time, drink.

A - Oh, yeah. When we did the Murray The K Show in New York, we did three of his shows in New York and we'd go to our hotel and drink 'cause that's what we did. (laughs) Our manager didn't like it too much. Me and Cannibal were the only ones of age. Bobby was sixteen. Joe was fifteen. At the time we were in New York.

Q - Why was Frankie Garcia given the name of Cannibal?

A - The story we got from him...first of all his brother was named Big Cannibal. And when you're from a neighborhood in East L.A. everybody's got nicknames. So the story goes that Little Cannibal, which was Frankie, had bit somebody a couple of times...a bite. So, he got known around the neighborhood as "Little Cannibal". That's how he got his nickname.

Q - So he went from a street fighter to a singer?

A - Yeah. Well, you gotta remember, in the '60s, everybody was from a neighborhood. I was even from a neighborhood. And that's what we did growing up. Protect our neighborhoods. You know, it's stupid looking back at it now, but that's what you did.

Q - As many times as I've listened to "Land Of A Thousand Dances", I could never quite understand the lyrics. What is Frankie singing? Does the song have a meaning?

A - Well, yeah. I don't know all the lyrics myself. I'm one of the original guys, but we never sang the lead, so that's why I never learned the whole thing. But it's about a bunch of dances..."you gotta know how to Pony, like Boni Maroni, you gotta know how to twist, it goes like this." It's a bunch of dances that are put together. That's why it's called "Land Of A Thousand Dances".

Q - You released this on what record label?

A - Rampart.

Q - It was released when?

A - May '64.

Q - When it was released, was it a regional hit first before it became a national hit?

A - Yeah.

Q - That song got a lot of airplay.

A - Yeah. That's one of the reasons Murray The K invited us to his shows. Even right there in Brooklyn and Manhattan it got a lot of play.

Q - How many records did that song sell? Any idea?

A - No. I sure don't.

Q - How did your career change when that record charted. Your career skyrocketed didn't it?

A - Yeah. Matter of fact, our very first plane trip was back to New York to do the Hullabaloo Show. That was our very first television show.

Q - Do you remember who else was on that show?

A - The two that I remember was that Michael Landon was the host and Dionne Warwick.

Q - You guys went on tour with The Beatles?

A - Right.

Q - That was in what year?

A - '65. We worked mostly out of New York. We hardly came home after the record took off. We worked two Murray The K Shows, one with Motown and the other with a mixed group. On August 15th, '65, was the first show at Shea Stadium. We did Canada, then we came down to Shea Stadium. That was with The Beatles. We did two shows at Shea Stadium.

Q - How did you get that gig?

A - Well, the story goes, and you gotta go by stories because our manager never told us how we actually got it. He just mentioned one day that The Beatles were looking for opening acts and Paul McCartney liked that "Nah, Nah, Nah Nah" and he told his people I want the Nah, Nah boys. So we were doing the Murray The K stage show in Brooklyn and supposedly there was a representative from The Beatles' camp in the audience to look at us and he went back and contacted our manager and contacted the agency and then we got the show.

Q - Was it someone who worked for Brian Epstein?

A - Probably, yes.

Q - Or could it have been someone from their booking agency GAC (General Artists Corp.) Was that your agency as well?

A - Yeah. Ours was General Artists. Wait a minute, there was another one. American Artists? The Beatles were under General Artists?

Q - Yes.

A - OK. We were under some other agency. I know that because whoever The Beatles were booking through, they had to go through our agency and cut them something in order to get us. So, I don't think we were under the same agency as The Beatles.

Q - What was it like to open for The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Everybody was waiting for The Beatles to come on.

A - That was the one thing our manager was afraid of. When he told us we were gonna do the Beatles tour, he also had another proposition from the Motown Revue. We could've went to Europe with Motown and been on their bill. Of course, we took The Beatles. Our manager was pretty worried about that, what kind of response we would get. Would we get booed? It might hurt your career. But, I guess our record was good enough and known enough. We didn't get booed at all and we did seventeen different states.

Q - How long did you have on stage?

A - Oh, a good thirty minutes.

Q - How many songs would that translate to?

A - I think we did six songs.

Q - Who else did The Beatles have as their opening act?

A - The King Curtis Band, which was backing all the acts up. Then they had some go-go dancers. Then they had a group called Sounds Incorporated, that Brian Epstein brought, trying to make something in the United States. And Brenda Holloway.

Q - How were you guys traveling for that Beatles tour?

A - We were on The Beatles' plane.

Q - Wow!

A - Yeah. We were very fortunate.

Q - So, you shared a lot of time with The Beatles?

A - Right.

Q - What was it like to be on that plane with The Beatles?

A - George was pretty quiet. You know, he's always been a quiet person. We talked about the shows and things like that. Ringo was a crack-up. Tell a lot of jokes. Of course John Lennon was a joke teller. The one that I got along with really good was Paul McCartney.

Q - Why would that be?

A - I don't know. I used to sit with him quite a bit on the plane and talk to him. I don't remember exactly now where they're from in England.

Q - Liverpool.

A - I do remember Paul used to say that was a like a rowdy neighborhood. We used to talk a lot about my neighborhood and his neighborhood. As a matter of fact, I even invited him to the neighborhood one time, but of course he didn't come. But, that's the one I talked to mostly, Paul. Cannibal used to talk to John a lot. Everybody used to talk to Ringo. Like said, George was pretty quiet. He stayed to himself quite a bit.

Q - The late, great Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers told me when The Righteous Brothers toured with The Beatles, they used to sing '50s songs on the plane with The Beatles. Would you and The Beatles sing songs at 30,000 feet?

A - Well, I know a lot of the times we'd sing a few of The Beatles songs and sang "Land Of A Thousand Dances". I don't remember which person it would be on the plane, but somebody would be on the plane and all of a sudden go "Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah" and everybody would join in. But, I can't say exactly who would kick it off.

Q - Did you get a chance to meet and talk to Brian Epstein?

A - Yeah, we met him, but not too talkative. We didn't talk to him hardly. I don't even think we talked to him, to tell you the truth. Our manager did, a lot now. They used to sit together quite a bit. But no, not us guys. I'm sure we said hi and what are you doing and how's everything today?...things like that.

Q - What was your manager's name?

A - Eddie Davis.

Q - Is he still alive?

A - No. He's gone too.

Q - Bring me up to date. What's going on with Cannibal And The Headhunters these days?

A - We tried from the early 90s to come back and really do something good, but it's been kind of hard. We're even surprised about that. One problem is that there's a fake group. This guy was a drummer for Cannibal back in the early 80s. Up until the 90s I think. After Cannibal died, he started taking over the name. In other words, we got into a big fight with him. What they are is a band. They're not a singing group like we were. They really burned us in a lot of places. People hire them thinking they're Cannibal And The Headhunters and they're not getting the real thing.

Q - So, who owns the name Cannibal And The Headhunters?

A - Me and Bobby just got it registered through the Federal Trademark about two years ago. Back then, you don't think about registering the name or anything like that. I wish our manager would've done (that). But no, we didn't do it. We own the name now.

Q - And you can't stop the fake group Cannibal And The Headhunters?

A - With a lot of money you can. Take 'em to court. I've talked to several lawyers over the years and it takes a lot of money. We wrote him letters to cease and desist. We even sent him the copyright Federal Trademark. The thing I'm thinking is, he thinks he's Cannibal, not a fake. He thinks he's the real thing. That's the only thing I can think of.

Q - How old of a guy is he?

A - He's about fifty-five, if that old. He was twelve years old when we had our record. He didn't come into the band until the early 80s and all he is, is a drummer.

Q - How long did he spend with the group?

A - I think about ten years. After Cannibal didn't want to sing anymore in '89, 90, he claims Cannibal game him the name, which is impossible 'cause Cannibal didn't own the name by himself. All four of us own the name. We do got court papers on that. Eddie Davis took us into court and we're all four known as Cannibal And The Headhunters. We've got papers from '64, but he still won't stop. Even with the Federal Trademark.

Q - What did you guys do after The Beatles tour?

A - We played with Herman's Hermits. We opened for The Stones, but I can't tell you where or when. Early '67, there was no more Cannibal And The Headhunters.

Q - What year did you re-group?

A - Oh, probably '90. But we always did shows here and there when we got together.

Q - When you weren't playing in the band, what else did you do?

A - I worked for a steel company...overhead crane operator. Bobby and Joe worked for, I think Union Pacific Railroad.

Q - Did you ever tell anyone on the job that you had a band in the 60s and you toured with The Beatles and opened for them at Shea Stadium in 1965? What would there reaction be?

A - Yeah, most of the time it was "oh yeah, sure you did, sure you did" 'til I showed 'em my scrapbook. Me and Paul McCartney sitting on the plane. Pictures of all four of us with Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison. Then they would shut their mouths.

Q - After touring with The Beatles, I don't know how you follow that with a regular job.

A - It was hard... always have that memory.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Richard Lopez passed away on July 30th, 2010.