Cannibal and the Headhunters

Who could forget the words to "Land of a 1000 Dances?" Frankie Garcia did.   But Frankie, as the lead singer of the Chicano rock band Cannibal & the Headhunters, covered his slip-up with an improvised "Na, na, na, na, na." The group's call and response sounded like a train whistle. The full mariachi-influenced vibrato hit the charts in 1964 and led to a national tour with the Beatles. 

The success of that one song, which reached Number 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in April 1965 and spent a total of 14 weeks on the chart, was enough to give them massive fame.

Formed in East Los Angeles, California, in 1964 after Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia joined up with the vocal trio Bobby & the Classics (Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo, his younger brother Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo, and Richard “Scar” Lopez), the band was initiated into doo-wop singing by their soulful mentors and neighbors Tommy Keyes and The Showcases and Zulu and The Warrios who also lived in the same housing project. In less than a year they were signed by Eddie Davis to his small label, Rampart Records, and soon were racing up the charts with their rendition of a little-known R&B song.

In 1965 they recorded an album around Land of a 1000 Dances and appeared on stage in New York City with their musical idols Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Ben E. King, and Wilson Pickett (In 1966 Pickett found success covering the Headhunters’ hit). They also performed on national television and, at the personal request of Paul McCartney, Cannibal & the Headhunters played in front of thousands of people in packed stadiums across the country as the opening act on The Beatles' 1965 national tour, which ended in L.A., a homecoming for the four Chicanos.

After a surreal 1965, Cannibal & the Headhunters recorded a few more records for Rampart. However, as band members were called to  active duty during the Vietnam War, the original line-up dissolved and by 1967 they broke up. Although Garcia continued to tour under the band's moniker, he finally called it quits in 1978. In the late '90s, Robert Jaramillo and Richard Lopez briefly reunited as Cannibal & the Headhunters.

Although their fame was fleeting Cannibal & the Headhunters played a significant role in Chicano rock history, influencing the nation with their Eastside musical sound. Reaching the summit of mid-1960s pop music in America, illustrated by their 1965 Hollywood Bowl show with The Beatles in L.A., the Chicano band's meteoric rise instilled pride and inspiration in an entire generation of aspiring Mexican American musicians. "Land of a Thousand Dances" is now considered a 1960s classic and is routinely included on compilation albums. 

Cannibal and the Headhunters
Mexican-American Rock: Land of a Thousand Dances
East Side Revue Poster