Naa Na Na Na Naa
Vintage photos courtesy ofRampart Records Mention Mexican-Americans and music, and most people conjure up stereotypical images of a sombrero-wearing mariachi singing rancheras or maybe accordion-laden corridos. They dont think of the sounds of Ludwig drums, Farfisa and vox organs, Fender bass and guitars. In other words, not rock & roll. But Mexican-Americans have historically rocked out with the best of them. There were Sunny and the Sunglows, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Trini Lopez who was so popular in 1964 that Gibson designed two different custom guitars for him. Would you be surprised to find out that Sam of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (Wooly Bully) was a Mexican-American named Domingo Samudio, or that the members of ? and the Mysterians of 96 Tears fame were also Mexican-American? Chris Montez, who went to Hawthorne High School with the Beach Boys, had the 1962 dance hit Lets Dance (later featured in the film Animal House). In 1963, he toured England and had this band called the Beatles open for him. Despite the prominent role played by Mexican-Americans in pioneering rock & roll, there are officially only two of them in the Hall of Fame: Jalisco-born and Tijuana-raised Carlos Santana was inducted with his band in 1998, and San Fernando Valleyborn and raised Ritchie La Bamba Valens (née Valenzuela) was inducted in 2001. Many of these Chicano rockers came out of Texas, but a great number flourished here too, specifically in the barrios of East Los Angeles. When Ritchie Valens was busy becoming the first Mexican-American rock & roll star by the age of 17, Del-Fi Records owner and legendary record producer Bob Keane allowed another 17-year-old Mexican-American teen, Billy Cardenas from East Los Angeles, to sit in on the sessions. Cardenas, by his own admission, was just a street kid, but observing Keanes work with Valens inspired him to go on and develop, record and promote Mexican-Americans from Los Angeles.Cardenas would eventually hook up with restaurateur-turned-record-producer Eddie Davis, who was once quoted as saying, If anybody thinks I got rich over my East Los Angeles music, theyre wrong. I cooked a lot of hamburgers to make those records. Together they developed a deep Eastside rock & roll roster, including bands like the Romancers, the Premiers, the Blendells, and Cannibal & the Headhunters the vocal group from the East L.A. projects who took New Orleans R&B singer Chris Kenners version of Land of 1000 Dances and ad-libbed the immortal naa na na na naa line, creating one of the most famous and most recorded phrases in rock & roll history. They also took Cannibal & the Headhunters to American Bandstand and then booked them to open for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965. The names of these bands might not be familiar to the average music fan, but thats the point. Like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, these groups are integral to the history of American rock. The Jaguars, featuring the Salas Brothers, were the first Eastside band to record for Rampart founder Eddie Davis, a restaurateur with a vision: I was very naive, and I never knew anything about prejudice. On a sunny July Fourth weekend this past summer, I was invited by Billy Cardenas to his 67th-birthday celebration at the American Legion Hall in Pico Rivera (Cardenas is a Vietnam vet). When I got to the party, the first thing I heard was the blaring sound of rock & roll. Cardenas wore cool black shades and was drinking Budweiser long necks. He introduced me to family and friends, and dudes with big ol brochas the Viking-style mustaches some veteranos wear. A live band that included Richard Provencio of the Romancers and members of the Heartbreakers, another Eastside band, played, and Cardenas began breaking down musicians and bands, most of whom I had never heard of. Talking to Cardenas was like unearthing a piece of history.Just as the story of the beginnings of the L.A. punk scene, with bands like the Germs, has been told and retold, and just as the origins of L.A. gangsta rap, with N.W.A, have been well-documented, Mexican-Americans from East Los Angeles have their own stories to tell. Many of these stories would have remained untold if not for Emmy-winning television sound engineer Hector Gonzalez. Gonzalez (more on him later) has compiled a wealth of history from interviews he conducted with Davis and others, and from the legacy Davis left to him when he died of cancer in 1994, including the Rampart Records label, master recordings from the era, press clippings, memorabilia in essence, the Rosetta stone of the West Coast Eastside sound.From those sources, and from recent interviews with Cardenas and surviving musicians and personalities from the eras heyday, comes this look at some of the men who helped create the West Coast Eastside sound, and changed American rock & roll in the process. Billy Cardenas Billy Cardenas was born in 1938 in a house near Gleason and Dacotah streets in Boyle Heights. While in kindergarten, he met Bobby Ray, a friend who would become a successful musician with a hit record in the 50s as a member of the Mask Phantoms. Ray lived around the corner, on Dacotah and First streets, and he introduced Cardenas to music.I was poor, and Bobbys father was financially better off than a lot of us in the neighborhood, so he bought his son all the instruments and schooled him in music. I listened to Bobby and another black family, who lived next to us. In that time blacks and Mexicans were mixed together, and that is how I got the music going, says Cardenas, who would back up Ray at wedding dances by playing instruments like the cowbell.Growing up on the streets of Boyle Heights, Cardenas started boxing for survival when he was just 8 years old. During his high school years, he met one of the greatest Mexican-American fighters of all time, Enrique Bolaños, who was managed by the legendary George Parnassus. Cardenas would later use his fighting skills to become the Armys 1957 Junior Golden Gloves champion in Hollywood and win the national 1959 Golden Gloves championship in Chicago.It was just before Cardenas joined the Army that he met Del-Fi Records owner and producer Bob Keane and got invited to the Ritchie Valens session. I guess because Ritchie was Mexican and I was Mexican. [Bob] would say, Hey, what do you think of this rhythm, does it sound traditional? and Id say, Well, thats what my grandmother used to play on her Rocola, he says. At that session Cardenas remembers Valens singing early versions of songs like Bluebirds Over the Mountain. Cardenas was inspired by the music, but he would not be around to enjoy Ritchies success.In 1960, Cardenas went to Vietnam as part of the 101st Airborne Division, in which he was an expert in firearms and took part in many covert actions. I was in places I shouldnt have been, he says. Get caught, and you dont belong to the U.S. The Blendells, from Lincoln Heights, were distributed by Frank Sinatra's label (Reprise) after the release of their party hit La La La La La. Its mastermind, Rampart co-founder Billy Cardenas, says he never saw a dime. He never got caught, and after his tour of duty, he returned to East L.A. and music. Cardenas met a playground director at Lincoln Heights Park known to the kids as Mr. Rodriguez. Rodriguez introduced Cardenas to the local Lincoln Heights band the Romancers, which included the talented singer and songwriter Max Uballez and guitar god Andy Tesso.He wanted me to help them out, says Cardenas. I had no status. He felt they were talented and I should go see them. Then I heard the band and really liked them.Cardenas didnt have much to help them with, until a friend in the film industry introduced him to Robert Bumps Blackwell, the producer of Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Cardenas and Blackwell produced a minor record by teenage South L.A. talent Yolanda Lea. With some experience under his belt, Cardenas turned his attention back to the Romancers.Max Uballez, I felt, was another Ritchie Valens. So that was the motivation for me, says Cardenas. I shopped them with Del-Fi Records, and they gave us a record called Come On Little Darling. Ritchie was at Del-Fi and he was Mexican-American, so I figured theyd be open to another Mexican, and they released that.They would later record the local hit The Slauson Shuffle.Andy Tesso was 15 years old on that, and kicked ass, recalls Cardenas. He was one of the best guitarists everyone copied his style.Cardenas began to amass an array of Eastside artists: first the Romancers, then the Jaguars with the Salas Brothers, Rudy and Steve (who later formed the popular Latin funk band Tierra and recorded the Eastside classic Together), then the Heartbreakers, with the duet of brothers Benny and Joe Rodriguez from Roosevelt High.When the Romancers played at wedding dances, they couldnt play Mexican music, because Max couldnt sing in Spanish, says Cardenas. So we connected the Romancers with Benny and Joe and made them the Heartbreakers so they could sing all the Spanish stuff at weddings.He also managed the Blendells, the Premiers, the Rhythm Playboys (with Frankie Cannibal Garcia, who would go on to lead Cannibal & the Headhunters), and a South L.A. duo known as Robert and Ray. The crazy part of all this was that unlike most A&R execs, who go out and look for new talent, all the Eastside bands were coming to Cardenas. In fact, the Premiers were discovered when the mother of one of the band members called Cardenas.Cardenas had a roster of bands in place; now he needed to hone his craft. He began producing for Cadet Records. I did about 300 records for Cadet Records, in West L.A., run by Jules Bihari. It was Chicano, mariachi music, veteranos that hung out in bars, whoever I could find. I had studio time, thats how I recorded Robert and Ray [on his onetime label Magic Music]. It was all a learning process. I was 22 years old. I was working with engineer Bill Lazareth at Cadet, and hed guide me. Thats how I learned, says Cardenas.Cardenas was managing, promoting and producing, but he needed to take it to the next level. In 1963, he was watching a local TV show called Parade of Hits on Channel 13, with the house band the Mixtures. The show was produced by Eddie Davis. Cardenas got an idea. I put a call in to [Eddie], he says, and asked him if I could get the Romancers in there. Neither Davis nor Cardenas realized then how important that call would be. Eddie Davis Eddie Davis was born in 1926 and, like Cardenas, grew up around First and Boyle streets in Boyle Heights. Davis was half-Jewish and raised Catholic, and his childhood was much different from Cardenas. He started out as a child actor/singer, appearing in several major motion pictures with the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir in the late 1930s and early 40s, including Boys Town with Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy, Angels With Dirty Faces with James Cagney, and Going My Way with Bing Crosby. Davis first girlfriend was Darla Hood of the Little Rascals. After graduating from Fairfax High School, Davis joined the Navy during WWII, and was awarded the Victory medal. He then attended the University of the Pacific, where he studied music. After coming back to Los Angeles, he went into the restaurant business. He owned and operated seven restaurants during his life, including his first, the Pancake Twins, at First Street and La Brea Avenue.Davis parlayed his restaurant money into music. He bought a club, which later became known as the Continental Crush Bar, at Cahuenga and Hollywood boulevards. His first recording session was in 1956 at the Capitol Records building with Tony Butala and a girl named Concetta Ingolia, who was then part of the group the Lettermen. She would later gain recognition as Connie Stevens. In that first session, Butala and Davis recorded a song Davis had written called I Was a Teenage Brain Surgeon for the FBI.I realized that I wasnt destined to be much of a singer, but I thought, Shit, Ill just start my own record company. I loved producing, said Davis in a 1992 interview with Lee Joseph, founder of the garage-rock archivist Dionysus Records.One day, at his restaurant the Highland Grill, Davis met actor Kenny Miller, who had just finished making I Was a Teen-age Werewolf with Michael Landon. They got to talking, and Davis decided Miller would be his first recording act. In 1958, he started his first record label, Faro Records. Davis would later own Linda Records, established in 1960; Rampart Records, 1961; Boomerang Records, 1962; Prospect and Valhalla Records, 1966; and Gordo Records, 1968. He made connections with an Oxnard DJ named Dick Moreland, who would go on to become KRLAs program director. Moreland introduced Davis to Steve Mendoza and his band, the Mixtures. The Mixtures were racially mixed, with Asian, Puerto Rican, Mexican and black members. In those days, blacks and whites did not mix, period, Davis said. But I was very naive, and I never knew anything about prejudice.
In 1962, Davis bought and began operating the Rainbow Gardens in Pomona, and later the Rhythm Room in Fullerton. (At the time, Los Angeles had a law prohibiting dances for people under 18 unless the profits went to charity.) Davis and Moreland started the KRLA/Friday Night Dance at Rainbow Gardens, with Bob Eubanks (The Newlywed Game) as the MC and featuring the Mixtures as the house band. In 1962, Davis put out the Mixtures Rainbow Stomp and became the first producer to release a record with a racially mixed group. He tried to promote the Mixtures on his local TV show, Parade of Hits, but was unable to get any national play. Until, that is, he got a call from all-around hustler Billy Cardenas, who wanted to put his band the Romancers on Davis TV show. Davis said no, but invited the Romancers to perform at the Rainbow Gardens. The Romancers went out there and kicked ass! says Cardenas. I was impressed with the feeling they had in their music. That was my first experience with a Mexican-American group playing soul and R&B, Davis told Hector Gonzalez in a 1989 interview. Eddie never had a hit record in 10 years. He saw the potential, says Cardenas. He saw I was a hustler. The two connected, and the West Coast Eastside sound was born. Although the Romancers were really the beginning of the West Coast Eastside sound, Davis couldnt record them because they had a contract with Del-Fi. So the Jaguars, featuring the Salas brothers, became the first Eastside act to be recorded by Davis, doing the Phil and Harv (lead singers for the Mixtures) hit Darling (Please Bring Your Love). The Jaguars would later record the killer instrumental Where Lovers Go (the money dance song for quinceañeras and weddings). But it wasnt until 1964 that the producing duo had their first national hit, the Premiers remake of Don and Deweys Farmer John, which reached No. 19 on the pop charts. The Premiers were a San Gabrielbased band co-led by brothers Lawrence (lead guitar) and John Perez (drums/vocals), with Frank Zuniga on bass, George Delgado on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Phil Ruiz on sax. Davis loved the upswinging groove, but felt the vocals needed camouflaging. The Premiers were the greatest groove band in the world. All their music they played with a groove, but they couldnt sing for shit! Davis said in the Lee Joseph interview. So the Chevelles, a cholita car club who idolized the Premiers, were brought to the studio to party with the band. As they wilded out, Davis played back Farmer John and recorded the festivities over them. He then plastered Recorded Live at the Rhythm Room across the label and made a hit out of the single. While the Premiers were doing a teenage fair, I took a couple of records to KFWB program director Don Anti, says Cardenas. I walked in there and said, Hey, who puts records on the air, whos the dude? Anti said he did. Is there a chance you could hear this record? I said. And he says, It will be on right now. The first week we sold 40,000 records. Eddie made a deal with Warner Bros., cause he wasnt big enough to [distribute] it. I never even had a contract when Farmer John hit, recollects Cardenas. Then, a few months later, came the second national hit, the Blendells La, La, La, La, La, which climbed to No. 62 on the pop charts. The Blendells were another of Cardenas bands from Lincoln Heights. The group was started by bassist Mike Rincon and included guitarist Rudy Valona, lead singer Sal Murillo and drummer Ronnie Chipres. Stevie Wonder performed the song at a show at the Paramount Ballroom that Cardenas promoted. Cardenas, who wrote the opening lyrics (Im gonna do a little song for you now that will make you clap your hands, kick your feet, and as a matter of fact, it will tear you up), decided to put it together with the Blendells. The song was recorded at Stereo Masters in Hollywood, although the label claimed it was recorded Live at the Rhythm Room. As with Farmer John, they had recording engineer Bruce Morgan add an extra track of partying, and it too became a hit. Then, that took off, it was sold to Frank Sinatras label Reprise, and they distributed, says Cardenas. I wasnt making a thing. I never got any money, even at that time. The classic love/hate relationship between Cardenas and Davis started to wear thin. Billy Cardenas and I were having problems because records were starting to happen and Billy didnt understand money, Davis told Joseph. He knew it was coming in, but he didnt understand that it also had to go out. Davis and Cardenas would connect one last time on the biggest Eastside act yet, Cannibal & the Headhunters, and their national hit Land of 1000 Dances. Richard Scar Lopez & Bobby Rabbit Jaramillo Eddie Davis (top) left the entire Rampart Records legacy to Hector Gonzalez (below), who has licensed Rampart songs to the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Photo by Gregory Bojorquez Richard Scar Lopez was born to Italian and Mexican-American parents at County-USC Medical Center. He grew up in the Ramona Gardens Housing Project, known as Hazard, after the resident gang. When he was 13, and doing gymnastics on the mat at the Boys Club, someone jumped on the rings above him. The rings snapped and came down on Lopezs head. He needed stitches, and from then on was known as Scar. Bobby Rabbit Jaramillo, also raised in East L.A., was known as Rabbit because of his buck teeth. In 1963, the two teenagers would meet in Mrs. Meades choir class at Lincoln High School. I lived on Murchison Street, half a block from the projects, says Rabbit Jaramillo over the phone from his home in Trinidad, Colorado. The Showcases [a black doo-wop group] would pass my house to get to the projects from school, so they would be singing a cappella and theyd have an entourage. I met Scar following the Showcases to the projects. We checked out the Showcases and we got inspired. I told Bobby, lets start our own group, says Scar Lopez, a dead ringer for Joe Pesci, during a visit to his spartan apartment in Whittier. The original group consisted of Rabbit, Scar, Scars brother Pete (until he went to juvenile hall), and then another friend, Ernie Lona. There were 13 kids in Rabbits family, and the group had no room to practice in the house. My dad used to raise fighting cocks, and we had chickens in the back until the health department made us get rid of them. So we converted the chicken coop into a room. And that is where we would practice, Rabbit says. We were practicing On Lovers Island by the Five Satins. Ernie was bass, Scar was baritone, and I was the tenor. My mom told my brother Joe [she couldnt properly say Joe, so it became Yo Yo] to take the trash out. We were singing On Lovers Island, and then, from the outside of the coop, we hear weeeeeoooouuu. I opened the door and it was my brother, Rabbit says. With Yo Yo in the group, they became Bobby and the Classics. The Showcases taught Bobby and the Classics how to harmonize, doo-wop and move. One of the Showcases, Tommy Keys, had a falling-out with his band. When Ernie Lona left Bobby and the Classics, Keys became the groups singer. Bobby and the Classics hung out and harmonized at a hamburger joint called the Cup in El Sereno. Soon people were telling Keys he was too good for the group. He decided to move on, but before he left, he introduced the group to Frankie Garcia, who was with the Billy Cardenasmanaged Rhythm Playboys. Garcia had a rough childhood he was a foster kid whose aunt and uncle eventually raised him. Garcias older brother was known as Big Cannibal, so he became Lil Cannibal. Garcia attended Jackson High School, known as The Prison because of the large fence surrounding the school. His outlet was music and singing, and he played the piano and the saxophone. I remember the first time we went to go meet him. He lived near Primera Flats [an Eastside neighborhood near First Street]. When we got to his house, he came down and had orange hair. We looked at each other and said, What the fuck, says Rabbit. They would later find out that Garcia was gay, but it was more immediately apparent that he could sing. He could sing, but he couldnt harmonize, so the group decided to make Lil Cannibal Garcia (soon to be shortened to just Cannibal) the lead singer. Bobby and the Classics now comprised Frankie Cannibal Garcia, Joe Yo Yo Jaramillo, Bobby Rabbit Jaramillo and Richard Scar Lopez. Bobby and the Classics were doing gigs, but they wanted to go bigtime. They ended up auditioning for Cardenas. We auditioned for him three times and we werent good enough, says Rabbit. He wanted bands to do two-hour sets for his show, says Scar. The group ended up auditioning for Eddie Davis, with one mike and a little speaker, at Rabbits house on Murchison, with his brothers and sisters running around. Frankie knew Eddie, so finally we auditioned for Eddie. He liked what he saw, and he had to get our parents approval to sign us cause we were underage, says Rabbit. The group was now signed, but it needed a new name. I had a Chevy that we called the blob. I used to have a shrunken head I had hanging on the rearview mirror, instead of dice. We went down to Billys house to practice, and Billy saw it and named us Cannibal & the Headhunters, says Rabbit. During their shows, the group would throw fuzzy Headhunter dolls with an attached miniature photo of the group into the crowd. One of the seminal moments in rock & roll began, like a lot of them, with a mistake. Cannibal & the Headhunters were at the Rhythm Room performing Land of 1000 Dances, when Cannibal forgot the lyrics and started singing naa na na na naa on the hook. We looked at each other like Whats he doing? But being that we were so tight, bam, we were on harmony. Eddie jumps up and says, Thats a hit! says Rabbit. Cannibal was doing this naa na na na naa thing. It was getting very popular, and it caught on so much that all the East L.A. bands started doing it. Thee Midniters [another popular Eastside band] were doing it, and Cannibal wanted to record it. I said I couldnt do it at the time because I didnt have the money. Billy Cardenas and I were fighting, but I promised Cannibal that before anybody else records that song, we will go to the studio, Davis told Lee Joseph. The Rhythm Playboys were among Billy Cardenas' first bands. On the night of the recording session for Land of 1000 Dances by Cannibal & the Headhunters, the word got out that we were going to record this song, and everybody showed up, including the girl car clubs who were the fan base for many of these groups, recalled recording engineer Bruce Morgan in a 1995 interview with Gonzalez. The studio was packed with people, and Frankie [Cannibal] kept running back and forth to the musicians giving them instructions on the arrangement. As an engineer, it was hard for me because I couldnt get Frankie to stand still in front of the microphone for more than a few seconds. . . . So I put some microphones in front of the girls to capture the naa na na na naas as background vocals. I then put Frankie in a vocal booth, where I surrounded him with microphones so that no matter how much he moved around, he wouldnt sound off-mike. . . . But we knew we had a hit record. You could smell it and you could taste it. Davis, who had released the two previous hit singles to the Warner and Reprise labels, kept Cannibal & the Headhunters Land of 1000 Dances for his own Rampart label, and with the advice of Flash Records employee and friend Rudy Benavides, he edited the songs long intro to fade into the naa na na na naa. Cannibal & the Headhunters had their biggest hit, peaking at No. 30 for a 14-week run on Billboards Top 100. I remember we were cruising Whittier Boulevard in Bobbys 49 Chevy and Huggy Boy [Dick Huggy Boy Hugg, one of the first radio DJs to support the Chicano community] plays our song, says Scar. And were going crazy, going ballistic on Whittier telling everyone to put their radio on. On February 21, 1965, at the Shrine Auditorium, Cannibal & the Headhunters were part of the historic West Coast Eastside Revue Concert that included the Atlantics, the Blendells, the Blue Satins, Mark and the Escorts, the Heartbreakers, Lil Ray, Thee Midniters, the Pagents, the Romancers, the Premiers, Thee Medallions, and the Jaguars with the Salas Brothers. 1965 would be a good year for Cannibal & the Headhunters: They would go on to open for such acts as the Rolling Stones, the Righteous Brothers, and Paul Revere and the Raiders, and perform on TV shows, including the musical-variety Hullabaloo with Michael Landon, Dick Clarks new show, Shebang, and American Bandstand. They also played Murray the Ks CBS-TV special Its Whats Happening, Baby, where Herman Munster himself danced to Land of 1000 Dances. Pioneering New York rock & roll radio DJ Murray the K (Murray Kaufman) was one of the first DJs to have his radio show syndicated. He was responsible for introducing the U.S. to bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. He brought Cannibal & the Headhunters to New York to do a series of shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theater, the first being The Big Holiday Show, featuring the Motown Revue: Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, along with the Righteous Brothers, and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Cannibal & the Headhunters would be the first vocal group or band from East Los Angeles to perform in New York. When we arrived in New York for the first time to perform at the Brooklyn Fox Theater for the Motown Revue, we were rehearsing at a studio for the show. We were in the middle of Mickeys Monkey when Smokey Robinson & the Miracles entered the room and watched us in amazement, singing and doing our dance routines, Joe Yo Yo Jaramillo told Gonzalez in a 1999 interview. (Jaramillo died of cirrhosis of the liver in 2000.) When we finished the song, they started applauding, and Frankie absolutely freaked out because his all-time idol was Smokey Robinson. I think Frankie even started crying, so Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations took Cannibal over to introduce him to Smokey Robinson. Smokey came over to Frankie and said, You guys are great. Welcome to New York. We love your song Land of 1000 Dances, and started singing, Naa na na na naa. The Motown Revue show sold out 10 consecutive nights and broke the theaters all-time attendance record. The New York police had to call out officers on horseback to control the crowds. At the Murray the K Summer Spectacular, with Tom Jones, Ben E. King and Ruby & the Romantics who had the hit single Our Day Will Come Ruby invited the band to Smalls Paradise in Harlem, owned by basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain. Kathy Young (A Thousand Stars),Billy Cardenas and Chris Montez (Let's Dance), 1964 When we arrived at the club, we were nervous because . . . the blacks were staring us down, says Scar Lopez. Ruby invited us to come onstage and perform. She wanted to show us off to everybody in the club. . . . So, we went up onstage and did our version of Out of Sight by James Brown, which we had already recorded on our album. Anyway, they loved us and wanted more, more! So, for our second song, we performed Land of 1000 Dances, which was on the charts at the time. Well, when the audience realized that we were the group who had recorded that song, we brought the house down. Everybody in the club was singing, Naa na na na naa. Nobody was staring us down anymore. It was incredible. It was East L.A. meets Harlem. I dont think that anyone in Harlem had ever experienced Chicanos from East L.A. . . . They kept asking us, What are you guys? Where you from? And I proudly said to them, Were Chicanos from Hazard in East L.A. Cannibal & the Headhunters put East L.A. on the map! At that same Summer Spectacular, an agent from General Artists approached Eddie Davis and asked if he had any interest in having the group open up for the Beatles on their second U.S. tour. Inside I was bubbling like a volcano, said Davis. We were in our hotel room, and Eddie walks in and says, I got something to tell you. Have you ever heard of the Beatles? Well, they offered us to be the opening act for an 18-day tour, recalls Scar. On August 15, 1965, at the biggest rock & roll concert yet, Cannibal & the Headhunters, backed by the King Curtis Rhythm and Blues Band, opened up for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in front of 55,600 hysterical fans. While Beatlemania and the British Invasion were taking hold of the U.S., four young Mexican-Americans from East L.A. put on a great show. After we played, Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] came backstage to tell us how good we were, says Scar. The Beatles tour traveled from coast to coast on a chartered, four-propeller American Flyer DC-8 plane. They would gamble in the back of the plane. Eddie would come by and say, Hey, I dont want you back there gambling, says Rabbit. As we were flying into L.A. for the last leg of the tour, Eddie was taking a nap during the flight. After being on tour for so long, we had all become friends, and I was determined to get in that game, remembers Scar. The temptation for me was too great, so I snuck to the back of the plane and started playing cards with the Beatles. When Eddie woke up from his nap, he looked around and noticed that I was missing. It didnt take long for him to realize where I was, and he stormed back there and started yelling at me in front of everyone. Im from East L.A. And I dont 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(here with Ringo Starr) openedfor the Beatles at Shea Stadiumin 1965. Frankie Cannibal Garcia(left,top) died of AIDS in 1996. They arrived in Los Angeles to an eerie scene. As we were flying into Los Angeles, we could see the city blackened from the fires of the Watts Riots. It was a spooky feeling. Remember, this was August of 65, says Scar. Soon after they touched ground, Scar disappeared and never did the West Coast shows, which included the Hollywood Bowl. The biggest high that I ever experienced in my life was at the Hollywood Bowl during the Beatles tour when Casey Kasem introduced us. The people went so crazy, I saw nothing but lights coming at me. There were so many cameras and lights and screams, the energy just shot up so high. . . . I must have been in heaven, Cannibal told the Los Angeles Times in a 1984 interview with Don Snowden. Heaven didnt last long. In 1966, Cannibal & the Headhunters were sold to Seymour Stein and Date Records. They never had another hit. Frankie Cannibal Garcia quit music in 1967 to attend college. He eventually became a nurse at County-USC Medical Center and went on to assist in AIDS research. He died of the disease in 1996. The Vietnam War and the advent of hippie-fueled psychedelic music would destroy the West Coast Eastside sound. Eddie Davis last hurrah was in 1970 when El Chicanos Viva Tirado was the No. 1 record in the country. MCA imprint KAPP Records approached Davis about a potentially lucrative licensing deal, but the band never liked the song and distanced themselves from it and Davis. Then his mother died, and Davis became unhinged, basically turning his back on the recording industry and his legacy. Hector Gonzalez That is, until Hector Gonzalez brought Davis out of retirement to record a 1977 album with his Latin funk band the Eastside Connection. Soon, Davis proved he still had it, introducing the revolutionary 12-inch vinyl single and scoring a disco hit with Youre So Right for Me by the Eastside Connections main songwriter, Harry Scorzo Jr. The Eastside Connection and Davis followed that with the hit record Frisco Disco, a song that would later be sampled by Slick Rick in Mona Lisa and Onyx in React. It was recently performed as part of a DJ tribute with Grand Master Flash on VH1s 2005 Hip Hop Honors. When Eddie Davis died on October 1994 from cancer, he left Gonzalez all of the record companys master tapes, archives and contracts, as well as the publishing catalogs from which Gonzalez currently licenses the vast Rampart Records group catalog to many artists, including hip-hop stars like Frost, the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. The legacy of the West Coast Eastside sound survives. Cardenas today. Photo by Gregory Bojorquez In fact, its experiencing a bit of a revival. Moctezuma Esparza and Edward James Olmos upcoming HBO film WalkOut will feature the West Coast Eastside sound on its score. Gonzalez is also working on a documentary called The West Coast Eastside Sound Story, which is being directed by 10-time Emmy winner Jimmy Velarde. The film will tell the story of Davis and the Eastside bands that played such an important and underappreciated role in the development of rock & roll. Gonzalez sold his house to finance the doc and moved into a house near the Golden Gate Theater on Whittier Boulevard leased to him by Adrian Ace Campos (ex-drummer of Aztlán Underground), who runs Bluespade75 Productions. With rehearsal and recording-studio space on the property for Eastside bands like Inner City Soul, Orchestra Clandestina and Quinto Sol, the two have created the musical epicenter on the Eastside. Theyve just recorded Take the Power Back by Inner City Soul for the Spanish-language Tributo a Rage Against the Machine, mixed by former Oingo Boingo member John Avila. The two have the place jumping and are making it feel like Rampart Records back in 1965. The driving force in me is that I sincerely believe that Mexican-American musicians have never been properly credited for their participation in the development of American rock & roll, says Gonzalez. On May 18, 1996, Cannibal & the Headhunters were inducted into the Chicano Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Eighth Annual Chicano Music Awards. Surviving members Rabbit Jaramillo and Scar Lopez continued to perform until Rabbit moved to Colorado with his family. Scar is the only original member still performing. We were four Mexican kids from East L.A., coming from the projects, says Scar. Your dreams can be fulfilled if you work at it. Billy Cardenas continues to produce music with Bob Keane and Del-Fi Records. We changed the whole system. We made it so that Mexican-Americans could participate in the music market; that was my fight, says Cardenas. Record companies were saying, We dont hire mariachis, and I had to say, No, youre wrong. These are rock & roll bands! To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the birth of the West Coast Eastside sound, Varèse Sarabande/Rampart has released Cannibal & the Headhunters Land of 1000 Dances: The Complete Original Album Plus Six Bonus Tracks and East L.A. Rockin the Barrio: Eighteen Hits From the 60s.
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