Great Interview and performance at The Melody Grill
The Robert Lee Revue
Here is a video of The Robert Lee and performing "CRAZY WORLD"
Little Frank, Robert and Bobby joined Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and The Raiders, Miriam Linna of Norton Records and the late great Sky Saxon of The Seeds - 1998.
? and The Mysterians - 1984
Bobby Balderrama, (a.k.a. Robert Lee), is the founder of this blues and classic rock band. Balderrama is one of the original band members from Question Mark (?) and The Mysterians, which is most noted for the 1960s #1 hit song, 96 Tears.
Balderrama's passion for music ignited at an early age.
"I remember I was five or six when Elvis came out, all the girls were going crazy. I listened to his music and always loved the guitar music in the background," recalled Balderrama.
Surrounded by older relatives in the music business, he watched and learned. It seemed only natural for him to pick up a guitar, and by the age of nine, he was already playing. He and his nephew, Larry Borjas, who was a few years his senior, started jamming together. In a short time, the duo decided to form a band, and recruited Robert Martinez to play the drums.
"I started playing in a band when I was eleven years old. We did a three piece, and we started playing instrumentals," recalled Balderrama.
The trio of musicians practiced and began their career playing at teen dances.
"I was at that age…I was interested in girls so (being in a band) made it better!" laughed Balderrama. Along with his popularity at the teen dances, Balderrama immediately found another perk in the business: money.
"Our first gig we played as a three-piece, we got paid $15; I got $5. But I was 12 years old, and I never had $5 at one time before," he said. Their first earnings were a cause for a celebration, so the boys traveled to Tony's in Saginaw.
"We went out and ate, and I spent it all. I had a big steak sandwich with a lot of cheese and mushrooms!" Balderrama remembered fondly.
After a few gigs, people began inquiring who the singer in the band was.
"All three of us were too shy to sing;" Balderrama shared, "I just wanted to play my guitar." However, the drummer's brother could sing, so they let him audition. "We tried out Question Mark and thought he was a really good singer. He had good showmanship, so we brought him in the band."
The band now consisted of four members, but they still needed a name…something catchy.
"My nephew (Larry) was watching a Japanese movie about aliens invading earth. The movie was called "The Mysterians", and (Larry) said 'that sounds like a good name for the band,'" recalled Balderrama. And so, The Mysterians were born.
Not long after, the group took a job playing at a Mexican festival.
"A guy saw us play there and he asked us what the name of the band was. He liked the name but came back with some ideas," Balderrama said. "He had a letter (of the alphabet) for each of us: X, Y, and Z. He gave Question Mark the "?".
This young band would not be influenced so easily, however.
"I didn't want to be called "X" or "Y," Balderrama said. "I just wanted to be called Bobby."
The group became formally known as Question Mark and The Mysterians, and it would become a name that would stick in the minds of many for decades to come. But first, Question Mark and The Mysterians had to overcome some challenges.
"We started practicing in 1961, and in 1962, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. It was like the British invasion had taken over, and we felt like we had to throw in our two cents and try to get some American rock music in the mainstream," Balderrama explained.
Although Americans enjoyed rock and roll music, many had their minds on other things as they were faced with the pending Vietnam War and two of the original founding members of The Mysterians were of age and faced being drafted. Borjas and Robert Martinez decided to join the Army on the buddy system and left for a fate unknown.
"We got Frank Rodriguez started in the band (playing keyboard). I was 14; it was during the Vietnam War, and it was exploding. We were left without two members, and it felt like everything was falling apart," explained Balderrama.
As it is with many things in the course of life, when one door closes, another opens. Question Mark got his brother-in-law; Eddy Serrato to play the drums, and then Frank Lugo joined the group as well.
"We thought it was a good song; 96 Tears was a collaboration of the whole band to create the music, and Question Mark wrote the lyrics," Balderrama shared.
Question Mark and The Mysterians believed they had created a good song. The next task was convincing the rest of the world.
"We hooked up with a small label, and they gave us 500 records. I thought they would send them out to all the radio stations. They told us that was our job…do whatever you want with them," remembered Balderrama. The band members lived in the Bay City/Saginaw area, and they hit the pavement running in an effort to distribute their record.
"We went to all the local radio stations. We even went all the way down to Detroit, into Windsor," recalled Balderrama.
The song, 96 Tears, caught on in a hurry, and all Question Mark and The Mysterians could do was hold on for the ride.
"Everything started snowballing. Before we knew it we were getting calls from the record stores. We had sold out, and we needed to drop off new records," recalled Balderrama. "I knew Question Mark had a lot of relatives, but this was ridiculous!"
Fans continued to call their local radio stations requesting 96 Tears.
"We dropped records off in stores in Flint, and they were getting sold out. We didn't really even know anyone in Flint," Balderrama said. "When we started getting calls from record stores that we were sold out, we realized something was happening. It wasn't just our family!"
Their hit single made it to the top of the charts on October 22, 1966, and "when the song went #1, it got picked up by a major label, Cameo Parkway, out of Philadelphia. We sold over a million records," Balderrama said.
So popular were Question Mark and The Mysterians, the group was invited to perform on American Bandstand.
"When it went #1 in Detroit, (Cameo Parkway) knew the song had something, and it had the potential to go #1 worldwide," Balderrama said. "Cameo Parkway set it up for us to go do American Bandstand."
For Balderrama and his comrades, the adventure was only beginning. The recording company "flew us out to LA, and we went to ABC Studios. We got a chance to meet Dick Clark. You put people like him on a pedestal, but he was just a down-to-earth guy," reflected Balderrama. Dick Clark also readily posed so The Mysterians could capture the moment on film.
"He was a real nice guy; he didn't have an ego which I really admired about him," Balderrama added.
Dick Clark hired the band and according to Balderrama, Clark used to have concerts all over the United States. Question Mark and The Mysterians were soon performing right along side other legends in the entertainment industry.
"We played with Sonny & Cher, The Mamas & The Papas, The Four Seasons, and we played with The Beach Boys in Florida - we did a tour with them," explained Balderrama. Their quick claim to fame was a bit overwhelming, but this young band from mid-Michigan savored every minute.
"We traveled with a lot of these bands and got to know them personally. It's a real good comradery between musicians…traveling together, you can relate to each other," continued Balderrama.
The Mysterians had come a long way in the entertainment business, but even more was in store for this dynamic group.
"Dick Clark had another show called, Where The Action Is. They had bands playing on the beach with water in the background. We were on that show three or four times. Paul Revere & The Raiders were the house band for the TV show. We got to know them pretty good too," added Balderrama.
To ensure a quality performance, Question Mark and The Mysterians continued to work hard and practice. "We practiced anyplace we could," remarked Balderrama. No matter where the group tried to hide out, their fans would eventually track them down.
"It took off so fast. We would take a couple days off and go to a secluded place and practice. People would find out where we were and our song was making it right then. We practiced in a hotel room, and then crowds of people would come to the hotel to see us practice. It was fun!" exclaimed Balderrama.
Through their success, the band never forgot their roots. Even in their hometown, the group continued to perform to keep their edge.
"We practiced in Frank Rodriguez's house a lot," Balderrama said. "Other friends said we could practice in their basement or garage and we took them up on it." He added that the locals even got a free concert out of the deal. "We'd practice a couple hours, and then they would invite their friends over to watch us practice."
By this time, Question Mark and The Mysterians had gone from being a 'garage band' to performing with the greatest musical entertainers in the world.
"It was like a dream. It happened so fast from the day we got the record and from the day we did American Bandstand. Everybody (in the band) got a gold record from the recording industry," Balderrama recalled. The Mysterians' success was almost instantaneous compared to other groups striving for the same accomplishments.
"Lots of bands spend years and years before they hit it. For us it was overnight. It was two years - three at the most - from when the band started playing;" continued Balderrama, "and it wasn't like we worked so hard. It was a fun thing to do."
Their widely recognized 96 Tears stayed in the #1 slot one week before it was knocked out, but Question Mark and The Mysterians had already left their mark on the world.
"It took a long time (for the song) to get to #1, and it took a long time to go down. They told us it was an indicator of why it was a big seller. I know it sold over a million, and 2-3 million worldwide," added Balderrama.
While the memory of some songs comes and goes, 96 Tears is one of those hits people are still singing along with almost a half a century later. "It was a popular hit song during the summer of 1966. I think that is why a lot of people remember. It was in the summer, and people tend to remember good times," remarked Balderrama.
Their unexpected success put the band under pressure to create another hit song. Simply put, the world got a taste of The Mysterians and wanted more. The band tried for another hit and came up with a few more songs.
"Our second single (I Need Somebody) went top 20, and to a band that never made it, that would be a success. But when you have a #1 hit song, you're held up against that. It's hard to beat," explained Balderrama. The radio stations picked up a few more songs by The Mysterians, such as Can't Get Enough Of You Baby and Do Something To Me.
"Smashmouth did a remake of Can't Get Enough Of You Baby in the late 90s," Balderrama said. "They copied pretty close to the way we did it."
Without a repeat performance, Question Mark and The Mysterians faced the inevitable.
"After we came out with the hit, we lasted about two years. It was because of the success, and then all of a sudden you don't have another hit," explained Balderrama, adding the group ran into more bad luck.
"The recording company, Cameo Parkway, went bankrupt, and we were kind of left out in the cold. Back then, most recording companies were out to get what they could at the moment," he said. Although the band performed together for only a short time, they had already made their mark on millions.
Balderrama was raised by parents with sound moral values, and he was determined not to let his overwhelming success change his character.
"My parents always taught me to be humble with everything and be a God-fearing person, to respect people's property and people's life," he shared. "I was taught that my whole life."
While Balderrama held on to his values, he saw firsthand how the music business changed other people.
"It didn't really change me a lot, but I saw people's egos get so big…I think it better to live out your life being normal," he said. "I did have the experience, and could see how cruel the music business could be…but I knew how I wanted to be and what my parents thought of me."
"Whether you are rich or poor, it's nice to have money, but money is never the answer," the down-to-earth legend said. "Money can get you in trouble, too. Look at Martha Stewart!"
While The Mysterians went their separate ways, Balderrama held on to his passion for music. He later moved to Texas and hooked up with Joe 'King' Carrasco and The Crowns. Joe's manager was looking for a guitar player, and since 96 Tears was Joe's favorite song, it was a match made in heaven. Balderrama joined the band in 1985, and stayed with them until 1990.
"Joe became more or less a college town success. He was huge in the college market," Balderrama said. The band was noted for their hit, Party, Party Weekend and had some M-TV videos.
"We also traveled the world. I went to South America and went to Europe three times in five years," added Balderrama. Eventually, tired of traveling, Balderrama decided to "quit the band, get a job, be a local band member, and live out a retired life."
He returned to Michigan, and with his love for music, soon delved into the style of music that was his real passion, blues.
"Since I was a kid, 'blues' has always been my favorite style of music," Balderrama said. "Chuck Berry was one of my favorite guitar players."
And somewhere along the journey, Balderrama conquered his shyness. "All those years of playing, I was scared to talk in front of a mike. I sang backup with Question Mark, and it gave me courage," he explained. In addition, the original members of Question Mark and The Mysterians reunited around 1995, and continue to do reunion shows.
In 2000, Balderrama decided to start his own group, The Robert Lee Band. He is the guitarist and lead singer, and Frank Rodriguez, another original Mysterian, plays keyboard. Other band members include drummer, Randy Hurry, and bass player, Ron Dosier. Jay Brandow, of WNEM TV-5, also plays rhythm guitar with the band whenever he can.
Jay Brandow will be traveling to Harbor Beach to play with the band during the Maritime Festival. Jay reflected on the circumstances leading up to him joining the band: "We (WNEM) were doing a feature on Bobby and his song, Bluest Blues. Bobby had a single come out, and it was his first time as front man." Although Jay liked the single, he thought there was something missing. "I was doing dishes and kept repeating the cd." Jay dropped what he was doing and strapped on his guitar. He also shared his thoughts with Chad Cunningham, the president of the recording company. Cunningham took Jay's comments seriously and invited him to bring his guitar to the studio.
Jay went to the studio, and although he had never played in a band before, he did like to play his guitar. "It was sink or swim. We blew through Bluest Blues, and then he asked if we could do it again. I was a little nervous," Jay recalled. With the band's approval, Chad Cunningham invited Jay to perform one song with them at an upcoming performance. That one song was the tip of the iceberg.
Jay played with the band full-time for 2 ½ years until he pursued additional interests. "I left the band and went back to school. I try to play once a month, if my homework is done. I like to stay in practice and… hang out with the guys," explained Jay. He also commented on the rewards of entertaining: "If the folks are dancing, it doesn't get any better than that!"
Of The Robert Lee Band, Jay stated, "These guys are pros. When we do 96 Tears, I remember dropping a dime at the local malt shop and watching the record spin. Every time I play, I see that little boy." Jay also summed up the magic of music; "everybody recaptures a little bit of their youth."
The band gets together once or twice a week to practice. "We have jam sessions from 7 PM -10 PM," Balderrama said. "After 10, the cops come around!" The band plays a variety of music from performing at blues festivals to playing classic rock and oldies.
"We're always trying to learn new songs and old songs. There are certain songs people like to listen to like Brown-Eyed Girl, Brick House, or Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight," he said. "I plan on playing a variety of songs in Harbor Beach: blues, classic rock, and we'll play some stuff that Question Mark and The Mysterians did so people can hear that." One of the band's most popular songs is an Alvin Lee remake, Bluest Blues.
The Robert Lee Band is growing in popularity as more people become aware of this group of talented musicians.
"In Saginaw, there's a paper called the Bay Review, and every year they have awards. People send their votes in, and vote for their favorite band. We won four awards this year," commented Balderrama.
Balderrama is no stranger to the Thumb area, either.
"Back in the 60s, Question Mark and The Mysterians played in Ubly. We used to play in the Thumb area a lot. We played at Caseville, a place called Castle Lanes. It was a roller skating rink," Balderrama recalled. He also has another local connection, Bob Rutkowski of Harbor Beach Audio. Rutkowski has designed the speaker system for the Harbor Beach Maritime Festival. "We played in Bad Axe one time and Chicago. Both times we used his speakers. It was unbelievable!" stated Balderrama.
The Robert Lee Band has a CD out, called The Robert Lee Band, and copies will be available at the Harbor Beach Maritime Festival.
"It's an honor to play at the festival. I think what Harbor Beach does for the festival, people will always remember," added Balderrama.
People are enjoying the music, and for Balderrama, that too, is his reward.
"My passion (for music) never went away. I like to see people enjoying music, watching people dancing, and even tapping their feet. It makes you feel like you're making them feel good," added Balderrama.
Balderrama began his career as a youngster, and although it is a hard way to go, he encourages people of all ages to pursue their dreams in the entertainment industry.
"I've never lost the passion for playing, but I've learned the realities of it all, and how hard it is. The music business is a tough business, but I would never tell anybody not to get into it. The first thing you have to have is the love of it and enjoy doing it. That's the most important part," advised Balderrama.
He feels that too many young people are sitting in front of their televisions and computers.
"When you learn how to play an instrument, you spend a lot of your time practicing, which keeps you occupied," Balderrama said. "Music passes your time. As you're going through life, it's something to enjoy. If you can be a part of it, that's even better."
Be sure to visit the Harbor Beach Maritime Festival, Saturday, July 19, and see Bobby Balderrama in person. It will definitely be a night to remember!
Joined by his wife Amy and a lot of happy fans .
Banana-w/JOE KING CARRASCO