? and the Mysterians: An Interview [Side A]

  • [Interview Transcript from the book "Psychedelic Psounds"] ? AND THE MYSTERIANS: 96 TEARS? and the Mysterians are primarily known for their classic "96 Tears," but they also managed to release a couple of albums along with several singles including "I Need Somebody," "Girl (You Captivate Me)," and "Do Something To Me." The band consisted of ? (vocal), Bobby Balderrama (lead guitar), Frank Rodriguez (organ), Eddie Serrato (drums), and Frank Lugo (bass). Rob Martinez (drums) and Larry Borjas (guitar) were original members who joined the Army just before the initial recordings were done.The following interview was conducted with ? on December 29, 1984 during a mini-tour of Texas the morning after performing with Joe "King" Carrasco at Fitzgeralds. ? wore long black hair with his traditional sunglasses and orange shirt.
  • AV: How did a bunch of Mexican-American kids from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas get to the Saginaw Valley in Michigan?QM: Bobby Balderrama, Frank Lugo, Frank Rodriguez, and Rob Martinez's parents were from Texas and they just migrated since the money was better up there.The origins of the group were basically a time element since we were around each other when we were very small. We got together in 1962, but we didn't have a name for the group until later on.
  • AV: The Premiers, Cannibal and the Headhunters, and ? and the Mysterians were of ethnic Mexican-American origin in the mid- sixties. Were ? and the Mysterians the first Chicano rock band?QM: I don't know if we were the first, but we had the biggest record.
  • AV: This is probably a rhetorical question at this point in time, but how did you come up with the group's name and your own enigmatic cognomen of ? (Question Mark)?QM: The lead guitar player, Larry Borjas, came up with the name (from the science-fiction movie) Mysterians. I never saw the movie until about 1980, but I thought about calling everyone else X, Y, and Z and naturally I was ?.
  • AV: Can you elucidate on two of your trademarks: your sunglasses and the high pitched "Wooo" that appears on several of your songs (e.g., "8 Teen," "Girl (You Captivate Me)," "I Need Somebody," and "96 Tears")?QM: Nothing was planned and after all these years I wouldn't call it a gimmick. When I came to the group I had them on. I guess that's where Larry got the idea to call us the Mysterians after he had seen the movie, because the aliens all had glasses on. How did they come on? I don't know. I just woke up one day and they were there.When I was about five I was dancing on stage for this benefit and I asked one of the ladies if I could sing. She said I didn't have any music, but I told her I didn't need any music and I got up there and sang. Everybody liked it and clapped their hands and I've been singing ever since. l used to sing in my room and go over my material on a tape recorder. The voice was something that just progressed.
  • AV: In 1966 you had a #1 hit with the song "96 Tears." How did this classic come about?[This section of transcript moved to match audio]QM: The recording took place in an outdoor patio in Bay City, Michigan on a two-track machine with no sophisticated equipment or headphones. Everybody went into a room that had big storm windows with very poor insulation and it cost us $50 to do 780 copies.I did the leg work for about eight months trying to get people to play it. I took a couple of copies to Bob Dell (disc jockey at WTAC in Flint, Michigan), but he threw them in the trash can and said it wasn't any good. I told him if 1,OOO people could hear it on the radio that they would probably like it and they were the ones who should determine if the record is good or not.Even though we were playing around the area, none of the radio stations would play it because we weren't Top 40 or nationally known. No one had to tell us that. So I said how does one get a record going? Anyway, we used to play for Bob Dell and pack them in at Mt. Holly (a ski resort that held about 2,000 people), but he wouldn't even give us a $50 raise. So after he threw "96 Tears" in the trash, we stopped playing for him and went to another club for about eight weeks. The club held about 300 and we brought our crowd with us. We would sell about twenty-five copies a night and kept asking them to request "96 Tears" on the radio.After eight weeks I went back to see Bob Dell. He came up to me and asked for a copy of "96 Tears" since he was being hounded with phone calls. So I said I already gave you two copies and he said he didn't know what had happened to them. I didn't want to embarrass him so I said I'd get him another copy. From that time on he started playing it and then calls came in from Detroit and Ann Arbor until it took off.We started getting offers from all the major labels---Capitol, Mercury, RCA---but our manager decided to go with Cameo since Chubby Checker was with them. If I had know that Cameo's existence was going to be very short, then I wouldn't have gone with them.
  • AV: "96 Tears" is one of the quintessential garage band hits of all time. Is it true that the distinctive organ playing by Frank Rodriguez was on a Vox and not on a Farfisa as many people believe?QM: It was a Vox, but I hate the terminology garage band or basement band. Music starts where it starts. If everybody was rich then they could start their music in a mansion, but I don't know why the critics or press uses those terms. I mean that's life and people that don't have luxuries have to start somewhere and it's better than outside. We practiced in a garage, but in the summertime you've got the humidity and the sweat. For me, and I'm sure that this applies to anybody who is into music, as long as a band is together it doesn't matter where you practice. It could be in a bathroom and I would be happy. The chemistry between the musicians is the most important thing. It doesn't matter where you start out.
  • [Interview continues at http://av.cah.utexas.edu/index.php/Vorda:Da_00]