The song was written by New Orleans club singer, Chris Kenner. While Kenner had some minor success with his song, it was not until Ramona Gardens, California’s Cannibal & The Headhunters took the song, and made it national dance craze, becoming a staple of rock and roll to this very day.
The Headhunters were the very first all East L. A. Chicano artists to emerge from that inner city music scene.
The group came together in 1963 as Bobby & The Classics. The group consisted of “Robert “Rabbit” Jaramillo, brother Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo, Richard “Scar” Lopez, and Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia. As you could tell, nicknames were the norm if you were from East L. A.
They were asked to audition for Rampart Records and by all accounts the audition went very well. The only catch to being signed to Rampart Records, was a suggested name change for the group from Bobby & the Classics, to Cannibal & The Headhunters.
How the group came to record “Land of 1000 Dances”, is one that almost didn’t happen.
Rampart brought in another East LA band to record the Chris Kenner song. The group, The Rhythm Playboys, while in the studio doing their session, had a band falling out in mid recording. Half of the band bolted out of the studio in the middle of the recording session mad, the other half just walked away.
Rampart needed to still make the session happen, so they quickly called in Cannibal & the Headhunters to finish the session.
It was a four song session for the Headhunters and one of the songs that the label wanted to be done at the session, was the iconic “Land of 1000 Dances”. The rest is history.
The arrangement of the song, along with the groups great vocals, quickly saw the record enter the national charts and started to climb quickly, until it reached the Top 30 on Billboard in April of 1965.
They were asked to tour with a Motown Revue that included The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Smokey Robinson. After that tour, they signed on to appear on numerous Dick Clark’s Caravan Of Stars tours.
Soon they were booked to appear on the national TV show, Hullabaloo. The Beatles Paul McCarthy, saw the band on Hullabaloo and liked them so much, he had them included to tour with the Beatles for the last half of 1965. They appeared on such major shows with the Beatles as the Shea Stadium and Hollywood Bowl concerts.
The group would re-enter the studio and finished up their only LP release, titled “Cannibal & the Head Hunters -Land of 1000 Dances”.
As soon as the Beatles tour was over, they were signed to numerous Midwest ballroom tours. Some with the Premiers of “Farmer John” fame, and others with Cannibal & the Headhunters as a solo act with a backing band.
In April of 1966 they played many of the famous Iowa ballrooms including the Roof Garden-Okoboji, The Surf-Clear Lake, Matters Ballroom-Decorah, and our own Pla Mor Ballroom in downtown Fort Dodge.
The group continued to record and tour into 1968 and by that time the band was starting to move on to their lives outside of music. The group would soon disband.
Various members of the Headhunters still reform and perform from time to time on various oldies shows. From all accounts they still perform and sing like it is 1965 all over again.