The group is best known for its song "96 Tears," a garage rock classic recorded in 1966 that reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and would go on to sell over one million copies and receive a BMI award for over three million airplays. Rudy Martinez, the lead singer, legally changed his name to Question Mark (?). Question Mark and the Mysterians was perhaps the first band to be described as punk rock, and also may be the first Latino rock group to have a general audience hit record in the United States. The group named itself after the 1957 Japanese science fiction film The Mysterians, in which aliens from the destroyed planet Mysteroid arrive to conquer Earth.
The band's frontman and primary songwriter was Question Mark. Though the singer has never confirmed it, Library of Congress copyright registrations indicate that his birth name is Rudy Martinez. His eccentric behavior helped to briefly establish the group in the national consciousness. He claimed (and still claims) to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life, and he never appears in public without sunglasses. He has also claimed that voices told him he would still be performing "96 Tears" in the year 10,000.
Question Mark wrote the song that would become their first and biggest hit, "96 Tears," with essential riffs and styling being contributed by the Mysterians. There is no truth to the rumor that the song was first entitled "Too Many Teardrops" or that it was changed to "69 Tears" before assuming the title "96 Tears". With its plaintive chorus and Rodriguez's catchy Vox organ riff, "96 Tears" was originally recorded as a single for local Pa-Go-Go Records, owned by the group's manager, Lillian Gonzales. The song became a regional hit in the Flint and Detroit areas. Question Mark licensed the record to Cameo-Parkway Records because their logo was his favorite color, orange. The band released a single and it was originally intended that the song "Midnight Hour" would be the group's single with "96 Tears" as the B-side, but at the insistence of Question Mark, "96 Tears" was chosen to be the A-side. Question Mark personally went to radio stations to promote his song and get his single played, and the song quickly became a local hit. Then with the Cameo-Parkway release the song became a huge national hit.
The band's next two singles, "I Need Somebody" and "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," were also charting hits, but nowhere near as successful as "96 Tears". The group's second album, Action, featured the Mysterians at the peak of their musicianship but was not as commercially successful. The band next briefly recorded with Capitol Records, Tangerine Records and Super K, with lineup changes occurring as the original members began to go off in other directions. Mel Shacher, prior to his role as bass player for Grand Funk Railroad, was briefly the bass guitarist for the band. "96 Tears" continued to be re-recorded by numerous artists and became part of the standard classic rock repertoire, and has been recorded in dozens of different versions.
In the early 1970s, Question Mark and the Mysterians reformed with a different lineup consisting of two guitars and no keyboards, attracting the attention of rock critic Dave Marsh, who coined the term "punk rock" in a 1971 article in Creem magazine about Question Mark. Question Mark and the original lineup of the Mysterians held a reunion concert in Dallas, Texas, in 1986 with Robert Martinez on drums once again, as Eddie Serratto had become ill with muscular dystrophy. This did not lead to a revival for the band, but a recording was made which was released by the NYC label ROIR entitled 96 Tears Forever: The Dallas Re-Union Tapes. Then, in 1997 the group reformed again, collaborating with NYC promoter Jon Weiss, who made the band headliners at his CaveStomp Garage rock festivals. Cavestomp featured many revived 60's garage and psychedelic acts. The newly revitalized Mysterians quickly established themselves as one of the strongest playing bands of these reformed groups, and touring in various mid-sized concert venues followed. The reformed Mysterians gigged sporadically throughout 1998 and 1999 and made two visits to Europe, where, in November 1998, they wowed a capacity crowd at the "Wild Weekend" garage rock weekend in London. They followed with a second, longer tour in summer 1999 and an unlikely appearance at the Royal Festival Hall classical music venue as part of the "Meltdown 1999" music festival.
Unable to secure the rights to their own master recordings and re-release their now out-of-print albums 96 Tears and Action, which now belong to Allen Klein, the Mysterians re-recorded their original 1966 album and released it again on the Collectables label in 1997, which was for the most part a reissue label only. Do You Feel It Baby?, a live album, was released in 1998 on Norton Records, with moderate sales. There was also a new studio album in 1999, More Action, produced and recorded by Jon Weiss in New York City--album design was by Michael Calleia at Industrial Strength Design in New York City. Question Mark dissolved his business relationship with Jon Weiss coinciding with the release of the record, allegedly due to dissatisfaction with the record and other business issues. The group went on a hiatus from performing shortly around that time.
In 2000 Question Mark began a collaboration with NYC guitarist and rock promoter Gary Fury. This collaboration has 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 NY area. The first incarnation included Jim "Royalle" Baglino of The Casino Royalles and later Monster Magnet on Bass, Sam Steinig of the Philadelphia band Mondo Topless on keyboards and original Mysterians drummer Robert Martinez. The group was billed as Question Mark and the Mysterymen and played the now infamous Limelight and Washington DC's The Black Cat. Then, in 2002 Question Mark returned to NYC to headline a two-night garage fest at CBGB's. The lineup featured Question Mark, Fury and Robert Martinez, with Keith Hartel on bass and former Pat Benatar keyboardist Charlie Giordano billed as Question Mark and The New Mysterians. A multi-track recording was made in CBGB's studio which is still unreleased. In May 2007, Question Mark and Gary Fury revived their musical collaboration for a benefit show at NYC's Highline Ballroom. Question Mark performed on stage with a backing group led by Fury, known as The Playthings. The group featured Fury on guitar, Jim Baglino returning on bass, Jimi Black of Cheetah Chrome and Sylvain Sylvain on drums, and Brian Leonard on keyboards. The encore featured a special guest appearance by Late Show with David Letterman's CBS Orchestra band leader Paul Shaffer playing keyboards during the encore, with Robert Martinez playing drums. Many musicians from well-known rock outfits of the past came to pay tribute to Question Mark, including Tommy Ramone of The Ramones, Joe Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult, John Hawken of Strawbs, and many other important British bands and Gary Lucas, the former guitarist and co-songwriter for the late Jeff Buckley.
In between these shows Question Mark was still occasionally active with the original Mysterians, and in 2001 Question Mark and the original lineup returned to NYC to play the very first Little Steven's Underground garage live event, selling out the Village Underground. Then, in 2003 they played what was billed as the final Cavestomp show co-headlining with The Vagrants and The Electric Prunes in the Polish National Home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York.
On January 10, 2007, a fire destroyed the home of Question Mark on his farm in Clio, Michigan, taking all of his priceless memorabilia and also taking the lives of his beloved breeding dogs (Yorkies). Dog breeding had been a viable business for Question Mark for many years. Benefit shows have been held around the country with Question Mark performing at some of these events.
The Mysterians (without Question Mark) still play live in and around their home state of Michigan and are now playing events around the country. Ironically, the tragedy has caused a wave of renewed interest in Question Mark. A documentary film about them is slowly being assembled by longtime friend and photographer Terry Murphy, who runs the official website for Question Mark and the Mysterians The working title for the film is Are You For Real. It will include footage from their forty years in the music business—from 1966 to the 1997 reformation and up to the present.