True to their name, the roots and career of ? & the Mysterians is shrouded in mystery. I rarely found so many conflicting sources on a 45 as I did on this one. Though ? & the Mysterians only scored one major hit with "96 Tears" they are often seen as the band that started the Garage Rock revolution as well as being the first Latin-American Rock band. Further digging into that lineage however makes matters confusing. Though ? claimed in a recent interview they were there well before the Beatles and the Stones, various sources confirm the first live appearances of the Mysterians somewhere around 1964. Though one source claims that the original base player of the group, Larry Borjas, came up with the band in 1962 when he saw a Japanese sci-fi flick by the name of the Mysterians. That would mean the band had existed for two years before the Beatles would break in the USA. This version of the story is confusing however, because other sources claim that the band started out as XYZ and ? at insistence of their lead singer who's actually legally is ?. Not spelled as Question Mark as some sources print it, but the actual glyph is his name, decades before theartistformallyknownastheartistformallyknownasPrincenowagainknownasPrince decide to change his name to a symbol.
Just as the origins of the band, ? true background remains shady. Some sources have it that his real name is Rudy Martinez, brother of drummer Robert Martinez. ? has always denied this. If we are to believe this man who is never caught without his sunglasses on, ? was born on Mars ten thousand years ago and lived among Dinosaurs. Whatever their true origins it was ? who penned the song, initially called "69 Tears," the title changed to "96 Tears" out of fear soixante neuf was to explicit to get them any airplay. According to ? the single was recorded for 50 dollars on a outdoor patio in 1966 and first printed in 750 copies for their managers Pa-Go-Go label. Before long the song became a radio hit and the group signed with Cameo Parkway records, home of Bobby Rydell. Allegedly they picked the label because its logo had ?'s favorite color in it, orange. With Cameo's distribution backing them up the song shot to the top spot of the charts in 1966. Adding to the mystery however, 1963 is the date printed on the label of the 45. The trademark organ riff that made the single so successful has had musicians debating since whether its a Farfisa or a Vox Continental. Recording sessions for the now legendary album "96 Tears" followed the success of the single, spawning another hit "I Need Somebody," which clocked in at #22. Unfortunately right after the group had recorded and released their second album "Action," Cameo-Parkway went belly up and professional vulture Allen Klein got a hold of the rights and master tapes. As a result, the classic single released in 1966 was scratched for release on the original Nuggets lp. For some reason Allen likes to sit on material he owns. Allen's label ABKCO didn't re-issue the original recordings until 2005.
While the original Mysterians fell apart more than once in the past few years ? always stuck around. In a recent interview he claimed that it has always been easy to find other Mysterians and keep touring. ? also claimed he will be performing "96 Tears" well into the year 10.000. I believe him, for a man born on Mars anything is possible.
? & the Mysterians
Available on The Best of ? & the Mysterians: Cameo Parkway 1966-1967
Bruce Springsteen 2003, featuring Garland Jeffreys
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