The problem that arises when writing about a rock star known as ‘?’ is that the use of the question mark symbol in cyberspace can sometimes cause unexpected results. In some ways it’s even trickier than Prince’s strange former name (which I won’t even try to reproduce) because it is a legitimate punctuation mark, even if it’s sometimes used in other ways. That might explain why most of what’s written about the guys behind the organ-driven sound of the 1966 mega-hit “96 Tears” refers to them as ‘Question Mark and the Mysterians’.
The Michigan-based group’s lead singer always went to great lengths to conceal his identity, even wearing wraparound dark glasses, but he was reportedly — spoiler alert — Rudy Martinez. His brother Robert was one of the founding members of the group, a bunch of transplanted Texans who cobbled together one of the first Latino rock bands. Taking the name ‘The Mysterians’ from a Japanese sci-fi movie, the group also originally included Larry Borjas, Bobby Balderrama, and Frank Rodriguez.
Saginaw, Michigan, wasn’t exactly a big time rock and roll venue, but the group grew to popularity in the early 1960s and eventually moved to the bigger city of Flint, where they first performed “96 Tears,” a song co-written by the mysterious lead singer. Even though the group was going through some personnel changes, the success of the song led to a recording contract and the song rocketed up the national charts to the top spot. The guys’ popularity soared — not only was the music appealing, but the strange lead singer fascinated fans. At times, he claimed to be from Mars and to have traveled to the future, and even to have been alive during the days of dinosaurs.
Unfortunately, the Mysterians did not find the same level of success with followup records, although “I Need Somebody” and “Can’t Get Enough Of You, Baby” both did very well. The group continued to record for several years but eventually entered a decades-long period of ups and downs, sometimes reforming with original or substitute members and hitting the recording studio, but never approaching the top of the charts again. Even now, a modern version of the Mysterians continues to occasionally appear before fans — but (reportedly) without ‘?’, who has retired.