? and the Mysterians

Saginaw, Michigan, 1962... an out-of-work bass player sits at home, watching a three year old Japanese sci-fi movie on television. It's about invaders who try to take over Earth after their own planet has been destroyed. The title of the movie is The Mysterians, and thus a band was born in the mind of Larry Borjas. He contacted a cousin, guitarist Bobby Balderrama, and a drummer, Robert Marinez. Together they started playing at teen clubs around central Michigan. Eventually, they added a fourth member, organist Franklin Rodriguez.

One night, while appearing at the Mount Holly Ski Lodge, the band was approached by a stranger who said he wanted to become their manager. They agreed and later found out that he could sing so well that they made him their lead vocalist. It was said that not even the members of the band new his real name or anything about his past. He never removed his sun-glasses and was known only by the pseudonym, "?" (Question Mark). He even tried to give the other members a secret initial such as Y, X and other letters. The boys were grateful, but decided to keep their own names.

When the Vietnam war escalated, bassist Larry Borjas was drafted and drummer Robert Marinez enlisted. They were replaced by Frank Lugo and Eddie Serrato. An urban legend has often surfaced that Question Mark told the band that he had written a poem and invited the group to help set his words to music and they did so. The poem was allegedly titled "69 Tears", but to ensure radio air play, the band turned the numbers around. Over the years, Question Mark himself has denied that this ever happened. He has stated in interviews that he put lyrics to a tune that he had written years before and called it "96 Tears" from the very beginning. "All that came out just like that. Boom!"

"96 Tears" became a great crown pleaser at the Mount Holly dance hall, and before long word had reached Lilly Gonzlaez, the owner of Pa-Go-Go Records. She agreed to financially back the group in recording the song. The session took place in a makeshift two-track studio in Lilly's living room. Afterward, there was a disagreement as to which side of the record to promote. Some Mysterians opted for the flip side, "Midnight Hour", because it was more funky. Question Mark though, pushed "96 Tears", and when the tune began to do well locally, he took copies to Bob Dell, the program director of radio station WTAC in Flint Michigan. Dell helped the group get better bookings and before long "96 Tears" was the number one requested song at the station. Air play spread to Detroit, and when radio giant CKLW across the border in Windsor, Canada added the record to its play list, Cameo Records stepped in and bought the master tape. "96 Tears" broke coast-to-coast in early September, 1966 and by October it was the top-selling record in America. In November, twelve weeks after Cameo picked it up, Question Mark And The Mysterians were presented with a Gold record, signifying over a million dollars in sales. In all, their tune spent twelve weeks on the Billboard Top 40.

Question Mark wore sunglasses when performing, recording, or being interviewed or photographed. Popular rumor said that he went to court and had his name changed legally to "?". The band made several TV appearances on shows like Where the Action Is, and American Bandstand. They also managed a follow up hit called "I Need Somebody", which made it to #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. After that, Cameo Records went down the drain, taking most of their roster with them.

Subsequent 45 releases and an album, "Action", did not have strong sales. The singles "Can't Get Enough Of You Baby" (#77), "Girl, You Captivate Me" (#100) and "Do Something To Me" all failed to match the group's earlier success. They drifted to other labels such as Capitol, Super and Chicory and by 1968 the band had run its course. Over the years they made various attempted reformations. A single was issued in 1973 which failed to chart, and new demos were recorded in 1978. They also played a reunion concert at the Dallas Arcadia in 1984 and worked as the opening act for Joe "King" Carrasco. The Michigan band, Inflight also included ex-members of The Mysterians.

A new album was released on October 29, 1997 in commemoration of the 31st anniversary of Question Mark And The Mysterians hitting #1 on the Billboard chart. In November 1999, Question Mark And The Mysterians released their first studio album in thirty-three years. All the original members returned for the recording of "More Action", a double CD that featured new material like the rockin' "It's Not Easy" and "I'll Be Back", alongside cover tracks of Bobby Darin's "Beachcomber" and The Stones' "Satisfaction". The band also rehashed "96 Tears" and included a Spanish version of the track, a natural, considering the band's Mexican heritage. On "More Action", Question Mark And The Mysterians didn't miss a beat, integrating the signature organ treble of "96 Tears" into each track. Collectors coveted the inclusion of "Are You For Real?" and "I'll Be Back", the band's first ever studio recordings. This CD could easily be mistaken for a '60s-era follow-up to the "96 Tears" album, though it fits in easily with the work of current garage revivalists.

In 2001, the original Mysterians returned to New York City to play at guitarist Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage live event, selling out the Village Underground venue. In 2002, Question Mark, whose real name turned out to be Rudy Martinez, returned to New York to headline a two-night garage band festival at the CBGB club. The group's lineup included Gary Fury, Robert Martinez, Keith Hartel, and former Pat Benatar Band keyboardist Charlie Giordano. Billed as Question Mark And The New Mysterians, the group recorded some new material that has gone unreleased. In 2003, the band played the final Cavestomp show, co-headlining with The Vagrants in Brooklyn, New York.

In 2006, Question Mark And The Mysterians were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Online Hall of Fame. On January 10th, 2007, a fire destroyed Rudy Martinez's house on his farm in Clio, Michigan, destroying all of his priceless memorabilia. Martinez ended up living in a mobile home and his friends held several benefit shows with Martinez occasionally performing. In May of '07, Rudy and Gary Fury got together again for a benefit show at New York's Highline Ballroom. The backup group, known as The Playthings, featured Fury on guitar, Jim Baglino on bass, Jimi Black of Cheetah Chrome, Sylvain Sylvain on drums and Brian Leonard on keyboards. The concert encore featured David Letterman's orchestra leader Paul Shaffer on keyboards and Robert Martinez on drums. Many well-known musicians came to the concert to help out, including Joe Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult, John Hawken of The Strawbs, Tommy Ramone of The Ramones and Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. Later that year, their biggest hit, "96 Tears", was voted a Legendary Michigan Song. On February 24th, 2011, Mysterians drummer Eddie Serrato, who played on the original "96 Tears" track, died from a heart attack at age 65.

For 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Question Mark And The Mysterians were still performing a few one nighters across America. In 2017, the band's official website advertised a Rock And Roll Tour Bus For Sale and did not show any upcoming live appearances.

Be sure to read Gary James' Interview with ?