An essential box set chronicles the history of iconic Los Angeles Latino rock label Rampart Records
Los Angeles has been a nerve center of the music industry for so long that people forget that there were regional scenes within that big city.
While 1960s L.A. has been lauded for being the home of the Beach Boys, the Doors, Johnny Rivers, Frank Zappa, the Mamas & the Papas, Buffalo Springfield and many others, there were others whose fame only went so far (if at all). The East side has a strong tradition of great Chicano musicians, and one of the finest examples emerged in 1964 when the lead singer of Cannibal & the Headhunters forgot the lyrics to a popular rhythm & blues song that was already becoming a standard. To stall for time, he improvised a few nonsense syllables: “naaaaa, na na na naaaaa…” The next year, they had a major nationwide hit on their hands with “Land Of 1000 Dances.” Even though it was their only hit, they milked the moment for all it was worth: Cannibal & co. toured with the Beatles, and just about every cover version of the song from that moment on included the “na, na” interjection, which was not present in the original.
That song, and many other touchstones of East L.A. rock history, can be found on Land Of 1000 Dances, a collection of singles originally released by Rampart Records, which was founded in 1961 by Eddie Davis, who eventually regarded his label as a Chicano response to Motown (although white-owned). Even though “Land Of 1000 Dances” was the only national hit that Rampart had, there were several other songs that tore up the West Coast, including the Blendells’ “La, La, La, La, La” and the Village Callers’”Hector.” There are two separate acts called the Atlantics, and Barry White sang lead for the first. Even though the Rampart label is much valued by collectors of 1960s garage and soul, it should be noted that this four-CD set extends well into the early nineties, with sidetracks into hard rock, new wave, disco and Top 40 pop (DiDi Scorzo appears on the final disc with a Spanish-language version of Richard Marx’s hit “Right Here Waiting”).
Musically, this set is all over the map, just like the music scene in general during the same time span. But even if your tastes only lead you to 50% of this set, the book that it comes in totally justifies the purchase. In addition to exemplary notes from Luis J. Rodriguez and the late Don Waller, there are several pictures of various Rampart acts, via promo shots, candids, and club and television appearances (including Cannibal & the Headhunters singing their song on a Murray the K special while Herman Munster terrorizes various dancers on the set).
In a 1983 interview with Goldmine magazine, Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia complained that his biggest hit might have stereotyped him for life. Every time he attempted something different, some producer would insist that he keep recording different songs with that same happy “na na na” groove. Some of those attempts are here (“Nau Ninny Nau”). Predictably, these knockoffs didn’t give them a second hit. But for all of the varied aspirations of both Cannibal & the Headhunters and Rampart Records, “Land Of 1000 Dances” cast a long shadow over both of their careers (what’s the title of this CD set again?). However, you can be sure that both the performer and the label took full fledged ownership of that legacy. The last song on the last disc of this set is an uptempo new wave version of the song by Skyline, with special guest vocals by the Cannibal himself. Curiously, the song is undated, but musically it’s got 1983 written all over it, which would have been right around the time of that interview. Squiggly synthesizers trade places with “naaaa, na, na, na, na,” and it’s pretty obvious that this was a crass attempt to snag the MTV crowd. (And why is Garcia listed as the composer on this song, instead of Chris Kenner and Fats Domino, who were originally credited?) Despite the trendy motives, this is an interesting way to close the circle on Rampart, one of the many small labels that circulated in the City of Angels.
AUDIO: Cannibal and the Headhunters “Land of 1000 Dances”