? and the Mysterians

? and the Mysterians was an early punk-rock group that was formed in Michigan in the mid-60's. They were a somewhat mysterious group by design, and were most often associated with their very popular number one hit from 1966 96 Tears.

? was born in Mexico in 1945 and who grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. The group was originally formed in Saginaw and consisted of Frank Rodriguez, Jr. on keyboards, Larry Borjas on guitar, drummer Robert Martinez, and lead guitarist Bobby Balderrama. They started to play in Adrian, Michigan around 1964. Group members Larry Borjas and Robert Martinez were drafted and went on active duty in Germany; they were replaced by drummer Eddie Serrato and bass player Frank Lugo.

Calling themselves ? and the Mysterians, they came up with a song called 96 Tears. The song was recorded at Schiell's Recording Studio on Raymond Street, in Bay City, Michigan using a Farfisa and a Vox organ. The band's manager, Lilly Gonzoles, had 750 copies of the song pressed on the Pa-Go-Go label that she owned. The song was played on some regional radio stations such as WTAC in Flint and CKLW in Detroit [which actually broadcast from Canada], and requests to play it again began to come in to the radio stations in large numbers. A deal was struck with Cameo to produce more pressings and eventually the song became a million seller and reached the top of the charts nationally.

The group enjoyed its brief status as one of the most popular rock-and-roll bands in America in 1966. They took on an air of mystery. Lead singer ? (known to his friends as "Q") wore sunglasses when performing, recording, or being interviewed or photographed. They claimed that all of the members of the group had been born in Mexico.

Late in 1966 they had their second single I Need Somebody enter the charts, where it peaked at number twenty-two. 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. ? and the Mysterians underwent some personnel changes.

In 1980 96 Tears was covered by Garland Jeffreys and became a minor hit. The group had a reunion in Dallas in 1984 and worked as the opening act for Joe "King" Carrasco. It was revealed that some members of the group, including Rodriguez, Lugo, Balderrama and Serrato had been born in Texas.

The original members of ? and the Mysterians were together again in the 90's and they say that the group never really broke up. They completed recording another version of the original 96 Tears album in 1997.

One element that had contributed to the enormous popularity of 96 Tears had been the story about Frank Rodriguez Jr.'s use of a Farfisa organ in the recording of the song. In an interview in Goldmine in 1981, ? stated that the group had also used a Vox organ. ? has traveled with packaged oldies tours in the 90's. He is still performing and recording into the 21st century. 96 Tears remains as a legendary song from the 60's.

Most Recent Update: July 30, 2014

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Send email to the author, Tom Simon tsimon@tsimon.com.