Question Mark and the Mysterians
|? and the Mysterians|
|Origin||Bay City, Michigan, United States|
|Genres||Rock and roll|
|Associated acts||Grand Funk Railroad|
|Members||? (Rudy Martinez)|
|Past members||Larry Borjas|
Eddie Serrato (drums, 1965 - 1970)
Question Mark and the Mysterians (rendered ? and the Mysterians on the record label) are an American rock and roll band formed in Bay City, Michigan, in 1962. The group took its name from the 1957 Japanese science fiction film The Mysterians, in which aliens from the destroyed planet Mysteroid arrive to conquer Earth, and may have been the first group to be described as punk rock. They were also the first Latino rock band to have a mainstream hit record in the United States with 1966's "96 Tears", which sold over one million copies and won a BMI award for over three million airplays.
In 1962 the Mysterians came together as an instrumental act inspired by surf music and artists like Link Wray. All the band's members were Mexican-Americans from Saginaw and Flint, Michigan: Larry Borjas played bass guitar, Borjas's cousin Robert Balderrama played guitar, and Robert Martinez played guitars and bongos. Shortly after forming, Robert Martinez switched to drums and his brother Rudy Martinez joined on vocals, calling himself "Question Mark" (written "?") and the band became Question Mark and the Mysterians. These Mexican-American musicians came from the Saginaw, Michigan, except for Rudy Martinez who hailed from Flint, Michigan.
Just before the band was scheduled to start recording, Robert Martinez was drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces and Borjas decided to enlist with him. The band then recruited Eddie Serrato to replace Robert Martinez on drums and Frank Lugo to replace Borjas on bass guitar. The band also added fourteen-year-old Frank Rodriguez on keyboards, forming the classic "96 Tears" lineup.
Rudy "Question Mark" Martinez wrote the band's first and biggest hit, "96 Tears," with essential riffs and styling contributed by the other band members. The song began as a poem called "Too Many Teardrops," written four years before the band was formed. The song was notable for its plaintive chorus and Rodriguez's catchy Vox organ riff. "96 Tears" was recorded on March 13, 1966, on a house porch in Bay City, Michigan. The band had originally decided to use the song "Midnight Hour" as the single A-side with "96 Tears" as the B-side. However, at the insistence of Martinez, "96 Tears" became the A-side.
"96 Tears" was released as a single by Pa-Go-Go Records, owned by the group's manager, Lillian Gonzales. Martinez visited numerous local radio stations to promote the single, and the song quickly became a regional hit in the Flint and Detroit areas. When Cameo-Parkway Records released "96 Tears" nationally, it became a number one hit single., selling over one million copies and receiving a gold disc. Over the ensuing decades, "96 Tears" became part of the standard classic rock repertoire, and was recorded in dozens of different versions.
The next two singles for Question Mark and the Mysterians, "I Need Somebody" and "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," also charted, but were nowhere near as successful as "96 Tears". These were compiled on the album 96 Tears along with a handful of other songs.
Question Mark and the Mysterians' second album, Action, featured the band at the peak of its musicianship, but the album was not a commercial success. The band then briefly recorded with Capitol Records, Tangerine Records and Super K. The band lineup changed as the original members left for other projects. Mel Schacher, future bass player for Grand Funk Railroad, briefly became the bass guitarist until Richard Schultz took over on bass and co-wrote numerous songs with Rudy Martinez; including "She Goes to Church on Sunday," which was licensed to Paul McCartney's publishing company.
In the early 1970s, Question Mark and the Mysterians reformed with a different lineup consisting of two guitars and no keyboards. The band attracted the attention of rock critic Dave Marsh, who coined the term "punk rock" in a 1971 Creem Magazine article about Rudy Martinez.
In 1984, the original lineup of Question Mark and the Mysterians held a reunion concert in Dallas, Texas. Original drummer Robert Martinez returned and replaced Eddie Serrato on drums after Serrato became ill with multiple sclerosis. The Dallas concert did not lead to a full revival for the band, but the concert was recorded and released by the New York record label ROIR, 96 Tears Forever: The Dallas Re-Union Tapes.
In 1998, the cover version of "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" by Smash Mouth reached number 14 on the US record charts.
In 1992, Rudy Martinez collaborated with rap artist Saltine aka The Mad Rapper on a hip hop remake of "96 Tears". The single was released on Pandisc Records following a huge industry buzz on radio. Billboard magazine gave the single a thumbs up.
In 1997, Question Mark and the Mysterians reformed again. They collaborated with New York promoter Jon Weiss, who made the band headliners at his CaveStomp garage rock festivals. The festivals featured many revived 60's garage and psychedelic acts. The newly revitalized band quickly established themselves as one of Weiss' strongest acts and toured a number of mid-sized concert venues.
In 1998 and 1999, Question Mark and the Mysterians played sporadically and made two tours to Europe. In November 1998, on their first European tour, the band impressed a capacity crowd at the "Wild Weekend" garage rock weekend in London. In Summer 1999, on their second tour, the band played at the London Royal Festival Hall as part of the 1999 Meltdown music festival.
During the 1990s, Question Mark and the Mysterians wanted to re-release their now out-of-print albums 96 Tears and Action, but unable to because the song rights now belonged to record executive Allen Klein. In 1997, the band re-recorded their original 1966 album and released it on the Collectables Records label.
In 1998, Frank Rodriguez joined the band on keyboards and Question Mark and the Mysterians released a new live album, Do You Feel It Baby?, on Norton Records and achieved moderate sales. In 1999, the band released a new studio album, More Action, produced and recorded by Jon Weiss in New York City with the album design by Michael Calleia at Industrial Strength Design. Coinciding with the album release, Rudy Martinez dissolved his business relationship with Weiss, allegedly due to dissatisfaction with the record and other business issues. At this point, Question Mark and the Mysterians went on hiatus from performing.
In 2000, Rudy Martinez began a collaboration with New York guitarist and rock promoter Gary Fury. This collaboration led to a series of live concerts featuring Martinez with a backing band led by Fury, featuring musicians from other garage bands in the New York area. The first backing band lineup included Jim "Royalle" Baglino of The Casino Royales and later Monster Magnet on bass, Sam Steinig of the Philadelphia band Mondo Topless on keyboards and original Mysterians drummer Robert Martinez. The new group billed itself as Question Mark and the Mysterymen and played the Limelight in New York and Washington DC's Black Cat.
In 2002, Martinez returned to New York to headline a two-night garage rock festival at the CBGB club. The band lineup featured Rudy Martinez, Fury, Robert Martinez, Keith Hartel on bass and former Pat Benatar/David Johansen band and current E Street Band keyboardist Charlie Giordano. This new band was billed as Question Mark and The New Mysterians. The new band created a multi-track recording in CBGB's studio, which is still unreleased.
On January 10, 2007, a fire destroyed Martinez's house on his farm in Clio, Michigan, destroying all of his memorabilia and killing the Yorkshire Terrier dogs that he bred as his business. To help Martinez, his friends held several benefit shows for him, with Martinez performing at some of these events.
In May 2007, Rudy Martinez and Gary Fury revived their musical collaboration 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 and Sylvain Sylvain on drums, and Brian Leonard on keyboards. The concert encore featured CBS Orchestra leader Paul Shaffer on keyboards and Robert Martinez on drums. Many well-known rock musicians performed at the concert to pay tribute to Rudy Martinez, including Tommy Ramone of The Ramones, Joe Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, John Hawken of Strawbs, and Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.
Guitarist Dennis Dean Lack joined the band in 1985, and was Martinez's main guitarist and music director, and still collaborates on new songs with Martinez into 2010. Lack has been active in the band for over 13 years; he now resides in Northern Michigan, currently working on a solo album due to be released sometime in 2011.
In between these shows, Rudy Martinez was still occasionally active with the original Mysterians. In 2001, Martinez and the original Mysterians returned to New York City to play guitarist Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage live event, selling out the Village Underground venue. In 2003, the band played the final Cavestomp show, co-headlining with The Vagrants in the Polish National Home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York.
The Mysterians, without Rudy Martinez, still play shows in Michigan and around the country. A documentary film about the band is slowly being assembled by longtime friend and photographer Terry Murphy, who runs the official Question Mark and the Mysterians website. The working title for Murphy's film is Are You For Real?.
On February 24, 2011, former Mysterians drummer Eddie Serrato (born Eduardo Serrato, December 5, 1945) died from a heart attack at age 65.
Bootleg CD copies (mainly of European origin) of both the original Cameo-Parkway albums, 96 Tears and Action, were made. Also available in 1995 was 30 Original Recordings which contained the Cameo-Parkway recordings, together with the later singles on Capitol, Tangerine and Super K. All are sourced from original vinyl copies and suffer poor sound quality as a result. These later singles have yet to have an official CD release.
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