In the fall of 1966 cousin Sally took us next door to see this enigmatic rock star. I recall that his parents welcomed us inside and motioned us over to couch against the far wall. There we sat rather nervously until Question Mark made his grand appearance. He was friendly yet elusive and made it a point to show us this huge Billboard Chart with 96 Tears positioned at #1 with the Beatles a close second (We Can Work it Out).
I recall him telling us that his band was better than the Beatles and advised us to buy his new LP and all of his up and coming 45's. I was in awe and decided right then and there that I would purchase every single record that Question Mark & the Mysterians ever made. I made good on that promise, even found two original Pa-Go-Go label copies of 96 Tears, it was a coup 'de etat of sorts. I was hooked from then on. I lost track of the band after a triumphant 1969 performance at the First Congregational Church (thank you Reverend Gary Miller) with other major acts from the Buddha label including the 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express, The Shadow of Knights, and the inimitable Jamie Lyons, the voice of the Music Explosion.
Many years passed before I saw him again. He was a co-headliner with Dick Wagner & the Bossmen and the Paupers at the incredible Y-A-Go-Go Reunion. Wagner had an illustrious career as an instrumental cog in Lou Reed's resurrection and co-conspirator in Alice Cooper's ascendance in the LP charts. It was a coup 'de etat for Question Mark to play at this eagerly anticipated event and a second chance to renew his local popularity. It marked the last time we baby boomers merged in such a loving remembrance of our life and times in the sixties.
Though Question Mark's performance was the highlight of the show, he was not able to sustain the momentum. His fortunes waxed and waned and the legend became a tattered cloak to be worn on a few local and regional gigs. Still, offers floated in. Little Steven van Zandt directed his staff to call me about Question Mark's availability for his Garage Rock Tour. I never knew why they called me, but I did pass the word to both Question Mark and Bobby Balderrama. As I recall, the band did a few of the shows but never capitalized on the opportunity. They never gave up and never went away.
The last time Question Mark performed at White's was about 5 years ago. A rainstorm forced us inside. The show was a stirring testament to the bands craft. They were just plain fun and exciting, but Question Mark was uncomfortable in such a confined space. He made it clear he would never play White's again if he was jammed up into such a tight squeeze.
In early 2013 I called Question Mark about playing White's Bar again and to my delight he finally agreed. He chose the date, Saturday July 27th. I called the support acts the Mongrels, White Mystery and Jack Diamonds. From my point of view it was a strong lineup, comprised of punk and garage rockers that complimented each other quite nicely.
I started preparing for the show that morning at 5am and helped staff to organize seating, box office, product etc. We were on a roll. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. The temperature was in the low seventies. It was a perfect day until the wind and dark clouds cast a foreboding pall over the scene.
Jack Diamonds performed a masterful acoustic set of original songs that included a cover of Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Diamonds expressive tenor has great tone and pitch. It worked perfectly to convey both love and loss and his role in the universe. Ash Carry On, You Move Right Through Me, Little Star and Pretty Bird were highlights of the set. I can't wait to hear Diamonds with his full band. This is an artist on the rise!
With the crowd of fans assembling, the clouds opened up to a torrential rain storm. Due to the inclement and unpredictable weather the magnificent Mongrels - Tim Avram (guitar, vocals), Shane Swank (drums) and Ethan Murphy (bass) decided to move their show inside. The room was packed and the set was inspired. Avram opened with a straight up punk anthem You Could Be Alive. It has a dry humor and a bit of irony - great tune. He followed with G-DUB, a protest song about George Bush, political corruption and dropping the bomb, heady stuff. Act One is a song about wasting your life away by drinking. One Last day is about fallen friends, memories and loss. They even covered Pink Floyd's Time and pulled it off without a hitch. The last song Piss on the Lawn was a big local hit for the Mongrels. The crowd loved it.
During the afternoon and early evening we were rained out three separate times. The clouds would roll in and unleash a torrential downpour, laugh all the way to another breach of sunshine. One particular gust of wind and rain blew in with such force that the awning over the stage (composed of heavy metal supports) was blown over the fence that separated Charter Communications from White's Bar, just missing a vehicle parked on the other side.
We put the frame and tarp all back together as the clouds parted and the blue sky reappeared just in time for a cool 45 minute set by Chicago garage rockers White Mystery. They are making a name for themselves and emerging as a musical tour de force. They are already positioned on the national scene through relentless touring and releasing a catalog of great high-energy music, ironic lyrics and humor (kidding on the square) that digs a little deeper. I can see them making an International splash in the next few years.
By this time the crowd had grown to over 200 strong and they were up on their feet groovin' to the familiar sounds of Question Mark & the Mysterians. It seemed to me that we were collectively reassured by our hero's undeniable talent.
The set opened with the pulsating groove of Do You Feel It. It contains everything we love about rock & roll - the organ trills, pounding drums and a great bass line. I was up front close to the stage. I looked over to my left and saw Alex White from White Mystery dancing and smiling like a Cheshire cat. It was as if we were all moving to the music - one mind and one body.
Ten O' Clock is a deep album cut that segued to Can't Get Enough of You Baby - a great regional hit that was first recorded by the Four Seasons, which lacked the spunk of Question Marks' version. To push the point even further regarding his rock & roll credentials Question Mark did a rockin' version of the Kink's You Really Got Me. Bobby Balderama's muscular guitar work nailed the Dave Davies solo. The band's version of Be My Baby was a tribute to their friend Ronnie Spector (a big fan). They took it all home with outstanding versions of Love Me Baby, Cherry July (a personal favorite).
The band's reading of Do Something to Me was near perfect. In 1967 it climbed the charts until Tommy James version got more radio play and ascended to the top. The funky Midnight Hour was soulful and bluesy. Question Mark's playful reading gave it a whole new hue and cry. The band performed well- conceived covers. A reconfigured orgasmic Stand By Me found Question Mark emoting like a love struck puppy - he moaned and groaned and made it his own.
He did a full balls-up reading of Otis Redding's version of O.V. Wright's original deep soul masterpiece That's How Strong My Love. It was perfect. Sally Go Round the Roses is a peculiar song with an eerie atmospheric vibe and…oddly, it's based on the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Roses. The Mysterians made it their own and gave it some jazzed up garage energy.
96 Tears got a rousing response. I love that 16th note riff that Lil' Frank Rodriguez created out of the ether. It is the engine of this magnificent garage rock classic and is as instantly recognizable as Louie Louie (The Kingsmen) or Dirty Water (The Standells). The performance was energetic and note perfect.
Question Mark was in a zone dancing to the music and singing with conviction about this ode about love gone bad. We were all smiling and singing along like a living cellular protoplasm with one mind and purpose. Everyone thought this was the finale but Question Mark fooled everyone. He would add another thirty minutes to the show with great versions of Don't Tease Me (a deep album cut), Girl (You Captivate Me) - a great song that is a bit naughty, it should have been a big hit. Eighteen and Try Me (a soulful James Brown song) finds Question Mark panting for love…ooh, baby.
Their rock hard version of Satisfaction was cock sure and was a suitable tribute to one of Question Mark's rock & roll heroes. He even copped a few of Jagger's moves. The show reached its rocking conclusion with an energetic second reading of 96 Tears. The crowd erupted like My Vesuvius releasing the thermal energy of a nuclear bomb.
It was a spectacular ninety minute set that had everyone dancing and singing along. It was simply transcendent. 96 Tears Forever!