Richard “Scar” Lopez, who scored a national top 40 hit with Cannibal and the Headhunters’ 1965 version of “Land of a Thousand Dances,” died July 30 of lung cancer in Garden Grove, Calif.. He was 65.
Lopez began singing with brothers Bobby and Joe Jaramillo, neighbors in East Los Angeles’ Ramona Gardens housing project, in 1963. A year later, their vocal group was solidified with the addition of Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia.
The group was discovered by East L.A. producer Eddie Davis, who recorded the group for his Rampart label. Among the songs Davis cut was the group’s rendition of New Orleans vocalist Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”; their cover was distinguished by its distinctive “na-na-na-na-na” chant, originated by Garcia after he forgot the song’s lyrics during a Fullerton, Calif., club date.
The song — which briefly dueled locally with a competing version by another well-known East L.A. band, Thee Midniters — rose to No. 30 on the U.S. singles chart in 1965, enjoying a 14-week run. It was the group’s only hit.
In later years, Cannibal and the Headhunters regrouped for gigs on the oldies circuit. Garcia died in 1996, while Joe Jaramillo died in 2000.
Survivors include a son and a daughter, two granddaughters, his father and sister. Another son predeceased him.