The Robinson Library
The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Musical Groups
? and the Mysterians

"96 Tears"

Question Mark and the Mysterians

The Mysterians were formed in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1962 by bassist Larry Borjas, his cousin, guitarist Bobby Balderrama, and drummer Robert Martinez. Originally an instrumental band inspired by surf music, the group subsequently added Richard's brother, Rudy (aka "?"), as vocalist, and organist Frank Rodriguez. Taking their name from a Japanese science fiction film, the band played its first gigs in the small Michigan town of Adrian in 1964 before moving its home base from Saginaw to Flint. Just as the band was beginning to make a name for itself on the local circuit, Larry and Robert were drafted into the military and were replaced by bassist Frank Lugo and the Martinez' brother-in-law, drummer Eddie Serrato.

The song with which the band is best associated was written as a poem called "Too Many Teardrops" by Rudy Martinez four years before the group was formed. Other band members subsequently provided the music for the poem, the title of which was then changed to "69 Tears"; that title was deemed too suggestive, however, and it was changed again, this time to "96 Tears." An immediate hit at the Mt. Holly ski lodge/dancehall, where the band played regularly, the song was recorded on the small local label Pa-Go-Go, owned by the band's manager, Lilly Gonzales, on March 13, 1966, and quickly became a hit on many regional radio stations. After receiving offers from several major record companies, the group decided to sign with the Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway, chiefly because its label was Rudy's favorite color, orange.

Cameo's recording of "96 Tears" had shot to #1 on the charts by the fall of 1966, and the band recorded its first album, also called 96 Tears, toward the end of that same year. It was about this same time that Ruby Martinez had his name legally changed to ?; he had already become known for never appearing in public without his trademark sunglasses, as well as for claiming to have been born on Mars and living among the dinosaurs in a past life.

The group's follow-up single, "I Need Somebody," released about the same time as its first album, made it to #22 on the charts. "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," released in early 1967, was also a minor hit, but the group's second album, Action, was a disappointing seller. The Mysterians left Cameo and began recording singles for Capitol in 1968 and for Tangerine and Super K in 1969; none of these singles were commercially successful, however. They also cut an album for Ray Charles' TRC label, but it was never released. The band then went through a period of lineup changes before its original members came back together to record singles for Chicory in 1972 and Luv in 1973, but none of those singles managed to garner an audience and the band went on hiatus. The group reconvened again in 1978 to cut some demos with producer Kim Fowley, but nothing was ever released. The band played a reunion concert in Dallas in 1984, the tapes of which were later released by ROIR; that year they also opened some gigs for Tex-Mex rocker Joe "King" Carrasco, and then again dropped from the music scene.

In 1997, ? was inspired (by voices he heard from the future) to reunite the Mysterians again, with Balderrama, Rodriguez, Lugo, and brother Robert. Since Cameo Records refused to allow them to reissue their original recordings in any form, they re-recorded their debut album for Collectables and released it as Question Mark & the Mysterians. In 1998, they issued a live album on Norton Records, Do You Feel It Baby?, that was recorded at Coney Island High and received warmly by their cult fan base of garage rock aficionados. A two-disc set of re-recordings, More Action, was released in 1999, this time Cavestomp (it was later condensed into the 2001 single-disc release Feel It!: The Very Best of Question Mark & the Mysterians). ? and the Mysterians continues to tour with this lineup today.

The Official Website of ? and the Mysterians is


Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Musical Groups

This page was last updated on 12/20/2017.