"?" was Rudy Martinez, the composer of the song and the band's frontman who wanted to be anonymous. At one point he referred to the individual band members only by three-letter names. The mystery helped market the group, who wore dark glasses to add to the intrigue.
All five members of the group were from families who migrated from Mexico to work in the Saginaw Valley in Michigan.
? tells us that the song was always called "96 Tears," and never "69 Tears" or "Too Many Teardrops" as sometimes reported. He insists that the number 96 has a deep, philosophical meaning, but refuses to tell us what that is.
The record was taped in a converted living room in Bay City, Michigan. The band then had the Texas-based Pa-Go-Go Records press 500 copies so they could distribute them to the DJ's in southern Michigan. The song became the most requested record on WTAC Flint, and CKLW out of Windsor, Canada, which went into Detroit. Cameo Records, having solvency problems, picked up the record after one of its staffers heard it on CKLW.
Garland Jeffreys covered this in 1980, with moderate success at the end of the disco era. ? & the Mysterians reformed that year, with ? the only original member.
Some sources insist that Question Mark's legal name is now the question mark symbol.
The follow up to "96 Tears," "I Need Somebody," peaked at #22 in 1966. The B-side was "8-Teen." Three more singles followed to no avail, and the group disbanded in 1968. (thanks, Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for all above)
During a 1981 interview in Goldmine magazine, ? revealed that the band had used a Vox Continental organ when they created the sound for "96 Tears," although legend maintained that sound had been made with a Farfisa. The trashy bar band sound of "96 Tears" still causes a rush of nostalgia for those of a certain age.
The band used to be called XYZ with ?, and played their first gig in Adrian, Michigan in 1964. (thanks, Bob - Knoxville, TN, for above 2)
This was very popular with American soldiers during the Vietnam War. (thanks, Kenneth A. Hinks - Canton, MI)