In November of 2007 the rhythm genre was at the top of its game. The Guitar Hero series was a huge success and geeks everywhere were living out their David Lee Roth fantasies in their basements with their tiny plastic guitars. I was a huge fan of the series and was working on becoming the next Slash by getting 5 stars on Free Bird (expert difficulty of course). If you would’ve asked me at the time I would have egotistically claimed to be a bit of an expert on the genre, but little did I know that a game was about to be released that would thoroughly rock my socks off and become one of my favorite video game series of all time.
Guitar Hero developer Harmonix had been purchased by MTV and was looking to completely reinvent how you pretended to be a rock star. They had an ambitious vision of not only you looking like a boob while doing knee slides in your living room, but you and 3 friends doing it at the same time! With the addition of bass, drums and vocals, their new game Rock Band would become the greatest party video game of all time and would lead to countless late nights of drinking, laughing, and completely epic performances of Take it On The Run.
Before we could be inducted into the Pretend Rock & Roll Hall of Fame though, we would have to create the perfect rock personas, and we took that task incredibly seriously. We spent hours tweaking our character’s physical appearance, covering our bodies with tattoos and picking out the perfect outfits before each show. But looking like a rock star was only half the battle, coming up with a kick ass stage name is important also. We would henceforth be known as Johnny Hotsauce (myself), The Old Cowboy (Adam), Mama Sassafrass (Cristina) and Cocoa Kristy (Kristy). And collectively we would be known as The B-Squad (Adam picked the name as a reference to one of our favorite movies, The Life Aquatic).
When the game came out on November 20th we were armed and ready to rock out with our… you get the idea. I had just turned 30 and my first child hadn’t even been born yet. We were young, energetic, and the crushing weight of a mid-life crisis had yet to come barreling down on us. Rock Band nights were epic affairs, complete with strobe lights, fog machines, and fueled by Jagermeister and cheap frozen pizzas. The only thing we could have done to feel more like rock stars would be to trash a hotel room and do a truck load of cocaine. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to rock until 2 or 3 in the morning, an hour of the day that we only see now if there’s a kid up vomiting or my back pain is keeping me up.
We would get together several times a year to play. Birthdays, New Years Eve, The 4th of July, pretty much any time we could make an excuse to lug our instruments to each others house and jam. Instruments which by the way, took a hell of a beating over the years. I recall at least one drum pedal snapping in half, drum pads that had to be taped because we were drumming holes right through them, and several loose strum bars that had deployed maybe one too many star powers. And speaking of instruments, did you know that I even went to Michael’s to bedazzle my guitar with glittery stickers and the name Johnny Hotsauce across the front of it? Yes…. I actually am that cool.
Over the years our playlist grew, with each new sequel bringing a new collection of both classic tunes and songs that we’d never heard of but would become favorites. I discovered bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Coheed and Cambria, Rise Against & Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives. And the weekly releases of new songs ensured that our set lists always featured something new. I’ve never attempted to do the math, but I’m pretty sure if I added up how much money I spent on new songs I’d be pretty depressed, and that’s not even including new instruments and stage equipment (I wasn’t joking about the strobe lights and fog machine).
One of the greatest things about Rock Band is that more than any other game I’ve ever played, we were able to forget about anything else going on in our lives and just 100% commit to the performance. A lot of other games have immersive worlds that make you feel like a hero or adventurer, but when we were shredding the guitar solo in Highway Star or screaming the words to Enter Sandman, we were rock stars (although looking at pictures or video from those nights provides pretty compelling evidence to the contrary).
A month after the original Rock Band came out my first daughter was born. Early on it was no problem to put on a show after she went to bed, but after she got a bit older and my 2nd child was born, getting a babysitter became a necessary part of game nights. Our concerts got a bit more subdued with glasses of wine replacing shots of tequilla and midnight became our definition of “staying up late”. Get togethers to play became less frequent, and after Adam starting having children they all but disappeared as now we both needed to line up babysitting. When Rock Band 4 came out a couple of years ago I was excited to get the band back together, but the reality of life made it tough. These days the extent of my rocking involves occasionally trying to play a song or two solo before the school bus drops the kids off. Pretty metal, huh?
While the heyday of the B-Squad may be in the past, I hope it isn’t over completely. I love the game as much now as I did back then even if my fingers aren’t quite as nimble as they used to be. Rock Band created some of the most fun and memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had and maybe one day Johnny, Cowboy, Cocoa and Mama can get back together for one more tour. So thank you to Rock Band and the crew at Harmonix for 10 amazing years. You’ve created an amazing game and helped us to create some truly awesome memories.