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Richard 'Scar' Lopez dies at 65; founder of East L.A. vocal band Cannibal & the Headhunters

He and three other high school students scored a national hit in the mid-1960s with 'Land of 1000 Dances.' In 1965, they opened for the Rolling Stones, the Righteous Brothers and the Beatles.

August 19, 2010|By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
  • Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia, left, Richard “Scar” Lopez and brothers Bobby and Joe Jaramillo burst upon the music scene in 1965 with “Land of 1000 Dances.”
Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia, left, Richard “Scar”…

Richard "Scar" Lopez, a founding member of Cannibal & the Headhunters, the East Los Angeles vocal group that scored a national 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.

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, where it peaked at No. 30.

"I remember we were cruising Whittier Boulevard in Bobby's '49 Chevy and [DJ] 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 A. 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 that 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.

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.

Born May 18, 1945, in Los Angeles, Lopez grew up in the Ramona Gardens housing project. He earned the nickname "Scar" at 13 when he received stitches on his head after a gymnatics accident at the Boys Club.

Inspired in part by a black doo-wop group at Lincoln High School, Lopez and Robert Jaramillo decided to start their own singing ensemble. Joe Jaramillo soon joined the group, which called itself Bobby and the Classics and practiced in a converted chicken coop in the Jaramillos' backyard.

After Garcia joined and was made lead singer of what later became known as Cannibal & the Headhunters, they auditioned for Davis.

"He was an inspiration to the group, as far as getting me started," Robert Jaramillo said of Lopez on Wednesday. "I owe him that."

As Lopez said in his LA Weekly interview: "We were four Mexican kids from East L.A., coming from the projects. Your dreams can be fulfilled if you work at it."

He is survived by his children, Peter Lopez and Lisa Lopez; his father, Carlos Lopez; his sister, Bonnie Resendez; and two granddaughters. Another son, Richard Jr., died in 2006.

A memorial service is pending.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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