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Richard Lopez, founder of '60s vocal band, dies

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, Calif., 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.

"They gave pride and dignity to the Mexican-American community."

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."

Cannibal & the Headhunters continued as a trio after Lopez left and broke up in 1967.

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 gymnastics accident at the Boys Club.

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