Herbie Hancock originally assembled the band for his 1973 album Head Hunters. The Headhunters' new lineup and instrumentation, retaining only wind player Bennie Maupin from Hancock's previous sextet, reflected his new musical direction. Bassist Paul Jackson was really the only other member who maintained a continuous presence in the lineup in subsequent recordings and concerts. On the original Head Hunters album the other band members were percussionist Bill Summers and drummer Harvey Mason. For the next Hancock album featuring Headhunters, 1974's Thrust, Mike Clark took over drumming duties.
Both Mason and Clark contributed drums to the Hancock's 1975's solo album Man-Child which featured 18 musicians.
1975 also saw Headhunters first album without Hancock, Survival of the Fittest, featuring the hit "God Make Me Funky". This song was sampled by The Fugees, among many others, for their track "Ready or Not," and has been covered by Jamiroquai as a live track. While Hancock's Man-Child moved a bit towards more commercial sounds, Survival of the Fittest kept Headhunters focused to intense jazz-funk. Vocals were heard on two songs but there was still lots of experimental fusion on the album (the band's music is called "space-funk" on some re-issues of the album).
As the 1970s turned to the 1980s, Herbie Hancock drifted away from the band as he moved into his electro-oriented phase, and they ceased operation as a visible unit. The band reunited with Hancock for the 1998 album Return of the Headhunters.