Parents rejoice: Kids like their geezer rock

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

When his three sons recently started singing classic rock around the house or in the car, Dave Shirey was taken aback. "How do you know that song?" the 47-year-old Powell father would ask. It's from Guitar Hero or Rock Band, they'd reply. "How do you know that song?" the boys, in turn, would question him. It's 25 or 30 years old, he'd explain. The notion struck his youngest boy as a bit eerie. "I had no idea that my dad listened to this music," said Jason Shirey, 12. "It kind of scared me."

With the continuing success of Guitar Hero and other music video games, though, fewer people will be caught off-guard (or frightened). Such games, with soundtracks more likely to feature Judas Priest than the Jonas Brothers, are bridging the sonic gap between generations. "It's really a little surprising when we see 10-, 11-, 12-year-old kids coming in listening to Aerosmith and stuff like that," said Jesse McNamara, whose Powell business, Music Royale, offers guitar lessons. "The parents are usually really happy about that because it's stuff the parents were listening to in high school, so they think it's cool."

Guitar Hero Aerosmith, a recently released series spinoff, features songs from the Boston quintet as well as the Kinks, Mott the Hoople, Joan Jett and other acts from the 1960s,'70s and '80s. The record-breaking sales posted by Guitar Hero and its sequels-$820 million in 2007-already suggest that the new generation likes what it hears, with once-popular songs becoming hot properties all over again. Digital downloads of Kansas' Carry on Wayward Son, for example, soared to 297,000 in 2007 from 119,000 the previous year, according to Nielsen Soundscan. The November 2006 release of Guitar Hero II featured the 1976 hit.

A recent survey from rock-radio consulting firm Jacobs Media showed that almost half of the 14,500 video-game players surveyed had spent time with Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Of that number, a third had later bought songs featured in the games. Mason Zurovchak, 13, of Worthington, recently added Heart's Barracuda to his iPod after mastering the song on Guitar Hero III. And, like the Shirey boys, he was surprised to learn that his father knew all the words. "No matter who you are, when you're young it just seems like your parents aren't that cool," said Zurovchak, who also counts Foghat's Slow Ride and Kiss' Rock and Roll All Nite among his favorites on the game. Cool or not, John Zurovchak, 42, listens to classic-rock radio with few complaints from Mason or his two younger children, Devon, 11, and Brendon, 8. "These songs come on," he said, "and they all start singing it."

The younger generation's passion for classic rock goes beyond listening to the songs: Many want to learn to play them. McNamara partly attributes an increase in his guitar-lesson business to Guitar Hero. "It's really inspired a lot of kids to get interested, which is nice." Not all, however, stick with the lessons, he said. "We get a lot of people who sign up from Guitar Hero who, after a month or two, realize it takes a little bit of practice. It's not quite as instantly gratifying as the game." But "it's just definitely made kids a little more excited about rock 'n' roll."