? and the Mysterians: An Interview [Side B]

  • [Interview Transcript from the book "Psychedelic Psounds". First part of interview is available at http://av.cah.utexas.edu/index.php/Vorda:Da_00119] QM: I had written "96 Tears" several years before and it was like the song was just waiting for its time. I had a tape recorder in my room and I would sing the lyrics which had taken many hours to write. "96 Tears" was one of those songs. What I wanted to do was learn how to play an instrument so I could sing and play at the same time. So I went out in search of someone to teach me the piano, but I couldn't find anyone to teach me since everyone I approached said you had to start with "Mary had a Little Lamb." On this one occasion I went to this man who was about sixty years old and lived on the rich side of town. When I got there he said I had to start with "Mary had a Little Lamb," but I said I didn't have time for that. I have these lyrics in my head and I want to know how to play the music to go along with them so I can play them. He asked me to sing one of my songs and when I sang "96 Tears" he played the chords. That was the first time I heard the music come alive with my lyrics. I said "Yeah, how do I do that?" He said I had to start from the beginning and to come back next week, but I knew I was never going to go back there.Then I had to try and find somebody to play the music, but at that time in 1962 there were mostly single artists making records and everybody else was forty or fifty years old. So for many years "96 Tears" was kept in the dark.The actual recording of "96 Tears" in 1966 is a different story. The Mysterians had formed in 1962 and we had asked our manager, Lily Gonzales, if we would record in 1965, but she said we weren't ready. I had known Lily when I was very small because she owned a neighborhood grocery and later had a small label that had Mexican music. So I went back to her in l966 and played her a tape and she said she would record us next week. Unfortunately, Rob Martinez (the drummer) and Larry Borjas (the guitar player) had just enlisted in the U.S. Army during a big draft recall. So I got Eddie Serrato and Frank Lugo, but they couldn't learn the material in just one night. We had one night to come up with a song, but everything sounded the same. Then the keyboard player happened to play the opening chords, but I said no since I had heard it before and I didn't think it was original material. So for about forty-five minutes I tried to remember where I had heard that music before and I asked Frank Rodriguez to play it again. Then it dawned on me that those were the chords the old man had played and I had written the song a long time ago and it goes like this. (? snaps his fingers.) It was just like that.
  • AV: Your first LP, 96 Tears, also had a hit single with "I Need Somebody." The subsequent album entitled Action had two more hit singles with "Girl (You Captivate Me)" and "Can't Get Engough of You Baby." There was also an excellent single called"Do Something To Me" which Dick Clark listed as #5, but which only a few radio stations (such as KOMA in Oklahoma City) played despite numerous requests.Why was it so difficult to find your records in the music stores and why did you receive such scant air play?QM: The main thing to us was playing and letting people all over the U.S. hear our music. Now that we were finally reaching people with our music, which is what we had set out to do, the record company could see that was more important to us than having a song. We were very green and everything was going very fast.When Cameo took us, we signed a piece of paper with Neil Bogart giving up all of our rights. We trusted everybody. We couldn't see why they would be so greedy. So we recorded the two albums and the five singles, but they said they weren't going to promote us. Everytime they released a song it went lower and lower without the push. "I Need Somebody" reached #22, "Girl (You Captivate Me)" hit #55, and I think "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" was #96."Do Something To Me" didn't get any recognition at all even though it was probably our biggest song since "96 Tears."
  • AV: Is there any chance you might put together a live album or a Greatest Hits album such as Rhino Records has done for groups like Love, the Standells, and the Troggs?QM: We just played in Dallas and the concert was taped Iive. ROIR is going to release a cassette called Question Mark and the Mysterians: The Dallas Reunion Tapes. All the original members performed and it was great playing with everyone again.I asked the record company if there is a master for our records to do a Greatest Hits album, but they said they didn't know where one is. APCO handles my distribution as far as my old material. Somebody has to have one because some guy came up to me in Chicago and showed me an album that had a Japanese pressing that he had bought in England. It was printed in 1979 and had lyrics in Japanese and English. You can't even get a copy in the United States. Somebody has to have the master in order to print them.
  • AV: The Mysterians broke up in 1969 three years after "96 Tears" was a hit. What have you been doing since then and what prompted the Mysterians to begin touring again?QM: Bobby Balderrama came up with the offer and it seemed now was the time to do it. Every year that has gone by I've written songs. All my songs are written to be timeless whether it's old material like "8 Teen" or a new song I wrote called "Some Days."
  • AV: What do your friends call you since you had your name legally changed to Question Mark?QM: They call me Q. Some call me Quest. Some call me Mark.
  • AV: It has been rumored that your real name is Rudy Martinez, but you have denied this repeatedly. Will you ever reveal your true identity?QM: I don't know. The name just came out of the blue and I've been using the name ? years before I had a hit record. It's not like Alice Cooper or Kiss putting on make-up and taking it off. This remains.The name ? is partly due to the Big Dipper which I've always been drawn to. One night I decided to see what drew me to it, so I looked up and at the end of the handle is a ?. There is a ? with thirteen stars and that's my lucky number. Thirteen is bad luck for almost everybody else, but for me it's good. I would say there are a lot of mysteries, but the main thing is that I'm really from Mars.
  • AV: Are you working on any other projects?QM: I'm writing an inspirational book called Are You For Real? I don't know if I'll reveal everything, but there are photos when I had shoulder length hair in 1962 way before the Beatles hit the shores. I also dyed my hair blond and almost dyed it orange one time. This is way before David Bowie or anybody else had come along. I don't know if I was ahead of my time or not, but I feel that way about my music. There's a message in every song and they usually have about five different meanings. I never write personally. Just like "96 Tears" which I wrote in 1962, my songs are waiting to be heard. Like the song says, "When the sun comes up...AV: "I'll be on top."QM: That's not what the song is about, but then I never explain my lyrics.