But a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard: The audience loved it. "It started out as a few select shows, but it kept escalating," says Johnson, lead guitarist. "We had no expectations for anything like that, but we just kept going with it." Soon, they ditched the fake beards and concentrated on perfecting their thrash-metal dirtcore sound. Before long, the band had enough material for a full record, and one year after forming, the group recorded their first album, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1.
Johnson recalls discovering the "Be A Guitar Hero" contest through The Noise Board, a local scenester forum often frequented by Boston musicians and businesspeople in the industry. On a lark, the band sent RedOctane a CD with a few songs, including the fan favorite "BBQ Nation" (.MP3), as well as "Cheat on the Church." "Again, no expectations; just send it in and see what happens," recalls Johnson. "Sure as shit, we landed a gig on the game."
When Johnson learned that "Cheat on the Church" had been chosen, "it was pretty much the best thing that's ever happened," he says. "Obviously, to see your song, which you pretty much wrote out of your bedroom, in a videogame that has been exposed to millions of people - that's just surreal."
Winning the "Be A Guitar Hero" contest marked a turning point for the band. Before Guitar Hero, no one - especially the members of the group - had taken Graveyard BBQ too seriously. Although they'd achieved some local notoriety, the group had never toured, been interviewed by any publications, or even released a second album. "But once it exploded like that, with the whole Guitar Hero thing, it was just so huge," says Johnson. "[The band] turned into its own monster."
Hits at the Graveyard BBQ website and Myspace page skyrocketed. Fans started to demand tour dates, cover songs, t-shirts, guitar tabs and CDs. Album sales also rose - which presented a unique problem, because, until recently, Graveyard BBQ had no management. "I'm literally selling CDs out of my bedroom," says Johnson.
Above all, Johnson notes, concert attendance exploded. He attributes at least half of the band's new fanbase to the Guitar Hero exposure. "People were curious to see us," says Johnson. "A lot of people that played the game had no idea that we were from the Boston area. So it's definitely been a big exposure bang for us." Fans have even asked him to sign their Guitar Hero controllers after concerts, which he happily does.
Graveyard BBQ doesn't reappear in Guitar Hero II, but the band continues to hunt for more exposure and fame. They've just signed with new management, and, although they still need a new keyboard player, they're currently shopping around for a record deal. In early November, they went into the studio to record their second album, which has been in the planning stages for over a year. Once the record's released, Graveyard BBQ plans to hit the road nationally in support. "At this point, we're full throttle," says Johnson, with barely contained glee.
Overall, Johnson can't say enough positive things about his band's Guitar Hero experience, and for good reason: The game essentially transformed Graveyard BBQ from a "hokesy-jokesy side project," as Johnson calls it, into a real-life rock show. Johnson fully admits that the band owes its current success to the franchise. "Without it, I'm not saying we wouldn't have people interested in the band," he says. "But Guitar Hero was such a huge thing that it's definitely aided in building a buzz for the band."
The question is: Will history repeat itself for this year's winners?
The Next Generation of Raw
"This year, the turn-out was insane," says Lange. "We listened to more mp3s than you can imagine. It's tough when you can only choose one."
That one happened to be "Raw Dog," by The Last Vegas, off their 2006 album, Seal the Deal. Unlike Graveyard BBQ, The Last Vegas has been pursuing mainstream fame for quite some time. Started back in 2001, the Chicago-based band toured the States constantly over the last three years; they also completed a seven-week European stint over the summer. Their sexy, frenetic sound - a chimera of biker rock, punk and raunch - has spawned rave reviews in national publications like Village Voice, Bass Player's Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. They've even appeared on MTV's G-Hole, with music featured on Fuel TV and MTV's Pimp My Ride. These guys mean business.