Band Biography and History
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Lead singer Question Mark, whose real name was actually Rudy Martinez, his brother Robert Martinez, and Frank Lugo, were all born in Texas and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. Bobby Balderrama was born in O'Donnell, Texas, and raised largely in Saginaw, Michigan; while Frank Rodriguez was born and raised in Bay City, Michigan. Despite his claims of being born in either Mexico or on Mars, Texas is the real birthplace of the enigmatic ?, or "Q," to his friends. The group was originally formed under a different name in Saginaw and consisted of Frank Rodriguez, Jr. on keyboards, Larry Borjas on guitar, drummer Robert Martinez, and Bobby Balderrama. They started to play in Adrian, Michigan around 1964. Group members Larry Borjas and Robert Martinez were also original members of the band but they were drafted into the US Army and were on active duty in Germany when the first album was recorded.; they were replaced by Eddie Serrato and bass player Frank Lugo.
Now centered out of the Flint, Michigan and the Valley area, ? and the mysterians had been playing out for a while. Things began to really pick up for them when the played a song titled "96 Tears" at the local teen hot spot Mt. Holly. The group had originally called the song "69 Tears," but had decided to change its name to "96 Tears" due to concerns that if they recorded the number under the original title they could risk losing radio air play.
The song was eventually recorded at in Bay City, Michigan using a Farfisa and a Vox organ. There were 750 copies of the song pressed on their manager's Pa-Go-Go label. The song was played on some regional radio stations such as WTAC in Flint and CKLW in Detroit (which actually broadcast form Canada), and requests to play it again began to come in to the radio stations in large numbers. Seeing it's potential, Neil Bogart with the Cameo label approached the boys and a deal was struck to produce more pressings. The song quickly became a classic of its genre and a million seller. It reached No. 1 in the US and No. 37 in the UK.
The group enjoyed its brief status as one of the most popular rock-and-roll bands in America in 1966. They released their first full-length album, "96 Tears," on Cameo and in late 1966 they had their second single "I Need Somebody" enter the charts, where it peaked at number 22. The band took on an air of mystery. Lead singer Martinez wore sunglasses when performing, recording, or being interviewed or photographed. He went to court and had his name changed legally from Rudy Martinez to ? (not "Question Mark," his name actually is "?" to this day). Subsequent singles and an album, "Action", did not have good sales. The group drifted to other labels such as Capitol, Super and Chicory and by 1968 it had run its course. Martinez has made various attempted reformations. A 45 was issued in 1973 and new demos were recorded with Kim Fowley in 1978. They also played a reunion concert at the Dallas Arcadia in 1984. The short-lived Michigan band Inflight was formed by Bobby in the 70's, but did not include any other ex-Mysterians.
In 1980 "96 Tears" was covered by Garland Jeffreys and became a minor hit. As mentioned, the group had a reunion in Dallas in 1984 and worked as the opening act for Joe "King" Carrasco. Most of what I know about the band members' origins were originally taken from info revealed around the time period of this reunion show. However, more recent conversations with the band members have provide me with the more accurate info I've listed at the beginning of the bio.
The original members of ? and the Mysterians still played together occasionally in the 90's, but have since stopped. They maintain that the group never actually broke up at all. It is rumored that they are in fact in the process of fixing up the original "96 Tears" album for re-release. Don't hold your breath - see below for details.