? and the Mysterians (also rendered Question Mark and the Mysterians) are an American garage rock band from Bay City and Saginaw in Michigan, who were initially active between 1962 and 1969. Much of the band's music consisted of electric organ-driven instrumentals, and an enigmatic image inspired by the science fiction film The Mysterians. In addition, the band's sound was also marked by raw-resonating lead vocals of "?" (Question Mark), making Question Mark and the Mysterians one of the earliest groups whose musical style is described as punk rock. Through their music, the group was recognized as a template for similar musical acts to follow.
The band was signed to Pa-Go-Go Records in 1966, and released its first, and most acclaimed single, "96 Tears", in the early part of the year. "96 Tears" became a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and propelled the group to a 15-month period of national prominence. Their debut album, 96 Tears followed. Though Question Mark and the Mysterians were unable to replicate their success with their later recordings, and are mistakenly deemed a "one-hit wonder", they did manage to reach the singles charts on five different occasions. In 1968, their label, Cameo-Parkway, was shut down for stock manipulation by the Securities Exchange Commission, taking the band's money and contract with them. After their disbandment in 1969, the band has regrouped and released additional material over the years.
The band members were children of migrant farmers, traveling to Michigan to pick crops and returning to their homes in Texas when the harvest was complete. After the automobile boom in Michigan opened new opportunities for employment, the families moved to Bay City, Michigan. The original trio, consisting of Larry Borjas (guitar), Robert Martinez (drums), and Bobby Balderrama (lead guitar), encountered one another and were motivated by surf rock musical acts Link Wray and Duane Eddy to form a group in 1962. The band played locally with the same line-up until the influence of The British Invasion with groups stressing lead vocals and dynamic stage performances. Some cousins of a band member brought them Question Mark, known for his dancing ability. "?" quickly cemented himself as the group's creative force and they began to develop a blend of gritty rock and roll and pop rock, with a repertoire that encompassed compositions penned by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. To correspond with the new line-up, the band was addressed by the name ? and The Mysterians, which was inspired by the 1957 science fiction film, The Mysterians. While performing at a dance at Saginaw's G.I. Forum, The Mysterians met David Torres. Torres was astounded by the positive reaction of the crowd and the mysterious appearance of "?", who sported shades as a trademark at all times, and, for a brief period, was able to have the other members be known as "X", "Y", and "Z". After the interview, the band recruited a keyboard player, Frank Rodriguez, who was a part of another local group, the Trespassers. The acquisition of Rodriguez proved to be pivotal in Question Mark and the Mysterians overall sound, more specifically their song, "96 Tears".
In February 1966, the band auditioned for an independent record label, resulting in the demos "Are You For Real?" and "I'll Be Back", which were only later released, and boasted for their very good sound quality in the 1999 album, More Action. Afterwards, Larry Bojas and Robert Martinez received draft notices and opted to enlist to avoid being sent to Viet Nam. The remaining band members continued, all the while Rodriguez improvised an organ riff, and "?" introduced a composition he had been developing for a while in his head . Auditioning for a replacement drummer resulted in Eddie Serrato, originally trained in traditional Mexican music, joining the group. . On March 13, 1966, Question Mark and the Mysterians recorded "96 Tears" along with "Midnight Hour" for the small Pa-Go-Go label, with Fernando Aguilar, a bassist who was soon replaced by Frank Lugo.
In April 1966, "Midnight Hour" was originally the A-side for the band's debut single, however "?" promoted the record across Michigan, encouraging radio stations to play "96 Tears" instead. When CKLW, a major station in Windsor, ONT, extensively played the song, it generated a number one regional hit, and drew the attention of Neil Bogart, president of Cameo-Parkway Records. The success of the song was attributed to the farfisa organ riff, and, as critic Greg Shaw explained, the simplicity and precise execution by Question Mark and the Mysterians. Bogarts purchased the rights to "96 Tears", distributed it on a national scale, and promoted the band by booking television appearances on American Bandstand and Where the Action Is. On October 29, 1966, after a steady climb up the charts, the single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week before being overtaken by The Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville". Nevetheless, it sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
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 along with Frank Montoya on guitar and Jeff McDonald on drums until Richard Schultz took over on bass and co-wrote several songs with Question Mark; 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 Question Mark.
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 ReUnion 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, Question Mark 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 CaveStomp garage rock festivals. The festivals featured many revived 60's garage and psychedelic acts.
During the 1990s, Question Mark and the Mysterians wanted to re-release their now out-of-print albums 96 Tears and Action, but were 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 rejoined 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 in New York City, with the album design by Michael Calleia at Industrial Strength Design. This design caused controversy as it was not approved by Question Mark prior to the release. Coinciding with the album release, Question Mark dissolved his business relationship with Weiss, allegedly due to dissatisfaction with the record and other business issues.
In 2000, Question Mark began a collaboration with New York guitarist and rock promoter Gary Fury. This collaboration led to a series of live concerts featuring Question Mark 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 the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.
In 2002, Question Mark returned to New York to headline a two-night garage rock festival at the CBGB club. The band lineup featured Question Mark, 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 Question Mark's house in Michigan, destroying all of his memorabilia and killing the Yorkshire Terrier dogs that he bred as his business. To help Question Mark, his friends held several benefit shows for him, with Question Mark and the Mysterians performing at some of these events.
In May 2007, Question Mark 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.
Guitarist Dennis Dean Lack joined the band in 1985, and was Question Mark's main guitarist and music director, and still collaborates on new songs with Question Mark into 2017. Lack has been active in the band off and on for over 13 years; he now resides in Northern Michigan.
In between these shows, Question Mark was still occasionally active with the original Mysterians. In 2001, Question Mark 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.
Many 1960s garage bands played "96 Tears" in their live performances. Cover versions of "96 Tears" have been recorded by a number of bands and musicians including Aretha Franklin, Thelma Houston, Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, The Texas Tornadoes, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Stranglers, and Garland Jeffreys.
On February 24, 2011, former Mysterians drummer Eddie Serrato (born Eduardo Serrato, December 5, 1945) died from a heart attack at age 65.96 Tears Forever - The Dallas Reunion Tapes '84 (1995, ROIR) - Live album, recorded in 1984
? & The Mysterians (1997, Collectables, COL-CD-2004) - New versions, recorded July 1997 at Bullfrog Recording Studios, Bay City, MI
Do You Feel It Baby? (1998, Norton Records, CED-262) - Live album, recorded at 'Cavestomp '97', Coney Island High, NYC in 1997 and January 1998
More Action (1999, Cavestomp! Records, CS! 5002-2) - Enhanced 2-CD set of new tracks and versions, recorded at Krisy-Kreme Recording, NYC, in 1999
Feel It! The Very Best of ? & the Mysterians (2001, Varese Sarabande, 302 066 263 2) - Enhanced single CD reissue of selected 'More Action' tracks, together with two additional songs
The Best of ? and the Mysterians - Cameo Parkway 1966-1967 (2005, Cameo-Parkway/ABKCO, 001877192322) - The original 1966-1967 recordings made for the Cameo Parkway label, including two unreleased demos