“96 Tears is the best Rock ‘n Roll song ever” – John Lennon.
Question Mark & the Mysterians were the first band to be described as punk rock.
In October 1998, Question Mark & the Mysterians topped the bill at New York City’s Cave Stomp, a garage music blow-out that included such luminaries as the Lyres, the Hentchmen, the Fleshtones, the Nomads and loads more garage bands. The two night affair was a total gas, but the whole deal went into rapid overload with the appearance of the Mysterians on stage at 3:15 in the morning. They started out with the instrumental intro workout to “Do You Feel It“, in the midst of which the insanely gorgeous Question Mark came bolting out like the perfect brat spawn of James Brown and Ronnie Spector! Oh, my lord!
They totally rampaged through a set that had people’s gourds being blown straight off, they were simply the perfect band, in perfect form, as though they recorded their anthem “96 Tears” last weekend instead of 30+ years ago! They look great, sound insane and simply ARE the wildest and most fabulous human beings ever to walk this planet’s surface! Anyway, upon leaving New York, the guys left to crisscross the country, playing everywhere from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Austin, Texas to Chicago and all spots between! Everywhere they went, they slayed the locals!
If you haven’t witnessed the majesty of Question Mark & the Mysterians yet, then get ready to go where you’ve gotta in order to grab an earload and an eyeful of the unbelievably sensational Question Mark & the Mysterians!
The band has a most unpredictable tale, from the very start, and yet, despite the many twists and turns in their career, they are suddenly, 30+ years after their chart hits, back on top, with the rest of the music world “down there, looking up”, just like Question Mark rails in “96 Tears“. Formed in Saginaw, Michigan in 1964, Question Mark joined up with friends Bobby Balderrama (guitar), Robert Martinez (drums) and Larry Borjas (bass), taking as a band name the title of a 1957 Japanese sci-fi movie, The Mysterians.
The enigmatic Question Mark, whose first teen dream was to be a dancer on American Bandstand, quickly parlayed his high stepping ways into an atomic stage show, incorporating his amazing, arrogant vocal stylings into one snarling ball of what he refers to as, “Attitude, bay-bee, ATTITUDE!”
In an effort to further befuddle the local teens, Question Mark dubbed Bobby, Robert and Larry, X,Y, and Z respectively, but the renumeration was short lived. There was a change in the ranks thanks to the draft grab of Robert and the enlistment call of Larry, leaving Question Mark (?) and Bobby (X!) momentarily groping in the wilderness for a rhythm section. Drummer boy Eddie Serrato, bassman Frank Lugo, and organ grinder extraordinaire Frank Rodriguez were reeled in as the magic combination.
Working out their sound in the Rodriguez home basement, the Mysterians built their majestic “96 Tears” (renaming the unsavory “69 Tears” which had been the salty redub of “Too Many Teardrops”) into the hypnotically persuasive original that soon would alter the eardrums of its first generation. Their first recording session, contrary to popular conception, was not the March session which netted their hit. Actually, their first studio session came a month earlier, on Feb. 12, 1966 in Detroit. A single acetate was cut of two cool numbers, “Are You For Real?”– first called “(Hey Little Girl) Are You For Real? — and “I’ll Be Back”. Norton issued both sides recently (Norton 45 083) is a boss full color sleeve boasting a couple dozen unpublished pix of the guys!
The legendary recording session which netted their hit came on March 13, 1966 at Art Shield’s “studio” at 405 Raymond Street in Bay City, Michigan. “96 Tears” and “Midnight Hour” were soon issued on the tiny local Pa-Go-Go label.
With in person promotion by the unstoppable Question Mark himself, the single was soon on rotation at WTAC in Flint, Michigan and also on Detroit’s powerful CKLW. There, it caught the ears of Cameo-Parkway talent scouts who promptly nabbed the young band. Question Mark recalls that there was major label interest galore, but that he chose Cameo- Parkway because “their label was orange”.
In case we neglected to mention it, orange is more than Question Mark’s color of choice– he is flat out maniacal about the vivacious and powerful hue! He must have been everso disappointed when the label changed its design from the trademark orange to an updated mid sixties black and red imprint. The Cameo re-release of “96 Tears” entered the charts in August of 1966, peaked at .. 1 in less than two months and went certifiably gold in November, just in time for the release of their debut album. Not bad for a record cut on a Bay City patio!
The Mysterians were off and running, with regular TV appearances on Detroit’s “Swingin’ Time” as well as on “Where The Action Is.” They were a top act wherever they travelled, and understandably so. The contents of that first LP, which included “Up Side, “I Need Somebody”, “8 Teen”, “Don’t Tease Me”– are so flat out perfect, that no one could come within a mile of what the Mysterians were putting down– a wildly flawless combination of soul and garage and rhythmic, lilting angst, all laced with a teen dream pulchritude and poppy images with severely demented undertones. Indeed, the mean arrogance and the pop flamboyance of Question Mark has absolutely never been duplicated. This is ultimately evident on ACTION, their second album, released in June of 1967, where “Got To“, “Smokes” and “Can’t Get Enough Of You, Baby” certainly elevated the insights of any misguided pre-teen transistor sisters! The Mysterians to this day purvey the same garage band snottiness that virtually every band of their generation promptly outgrew or discarded. More for the Mysterians, we say!
So where are the Mysterians, you ask? The guys greeted the new decade/century/millenium to a crowd of 3,500 screaming fans in Buffalo, New York at an exclusive society ball where at one point a dozen debutante socialites were frugging their brains out on stage with the Mysterians! The guys were recently out on the road wowing West Coasters and will be venturing down to sunny Florida as well. Question Mark is working on a book about exercising with peanut butter, and spends quiet hours training his 25 pedigree yorkie pups, of which he is a professional breeder/trainer. He is active on the internet and is very busy writing new songs, and being a general renaissance man about town. But his main calling is always to the stage. Don’t miss Question Mark when he comes to your burg!