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Members include DuncanCameron(born July 27, 1956; joined band, 1990), lead guitar, dobro, mandolin, steel guitar, background vocals; Gregg "Hobie"Hubbard (born October 4, 1960), keyboards, background vocals; MarkMiller (born October 25, 1958), guitar, vocals, songwriter; BobbyRandall (born September 16, 1952; band member, 1981-90), lead guitar; JimScholten (born April 18, 1952), bass; JoeSmyth (born September 6, 1957), drums.
Sawyer Brown is one of the few bands in country music history to be thrown into the spotlight early in their career as winners of a national award, then forced for the next decade to try and live it down. However, such obstacles didn't stop the group's energetic members from giving their all to their music. While the Nashville-based country music industry proved to be a tough to break into, the band's high-energy compositions have won them legions of fans along the road to Music City acceptance.
The band got its start when Ohio-born singer/songwriter Mark Miller hooked up with Gregg "Hobie" Hubbard while both men were studying at the University of Central Florida in the late 1970s. After moving to Nashville in 1981, Miller and Hubbard formed the band Savannah along with bassist Jim Scholten, guitarist Bobby Randall, and drummer Joe Smyth. The group soon decided that they needed a more original name; they changed their name to the Nashville street where they went to rehearse--Sawyer Brown. Miller's rough-edged vocals provided a perfect instrument for the up-tempo songs about cars and girls that made up much of the group's early material. Their music was a reflection of the band members' own youth and exuberance. And while the group was full of confidence after winning the music competition on the syndicated television program Star Search in 1984, their award was an honor that didn't mean much to the Nashville music industry.
After winning the $100,000 first prize on Star Search, the band signed with Curb Records in Nashville. By the end of 1985, they scored three straight top ten hits. Sawyer Brown's first number one hit, "Step That Step," stayed on the Billboard country charts for 21 weeks and earned the band the Country Music Association's Horizon Award for new talent. Unfortunately, gaining a position on the charts turned out to be the exception for Sawyer Brown, rather than the rule. The group only managed two more top ten records through the end of the decade: "This Missin' You Heart of Mine" and "The Race Is On."
Some critics believe the Star Searchwin brought a stereotype along with it that was hard for the band to overcome. In 1999, Richard Quinn stated in Country Music, "It's hard to get respect when your big break came in winning the Ed McMahon-hosted shlockfest Star Search." The members of the band are bothered by the criticism they have received regarding Star Search. "The way people put that whole Star Search thing down really bothers us," said Jim Scholten who plays lead bass for the group. "When Star Search came along, we were an aspiring band playing clubs and beating our heads against the wall. When somebody says `You have a chance to go do a TV show and play in front of millions of people,' what kind of idiots would be too cool to do it?" Hubbard felt that the lack of success was because the band wasn't "country" enough for Nashville. He echoed the criticism while talking to Quinn, "Too energetic, stand still, wear cowboy boots, somebody needs to have a cowboy hat, you're not country, you don't sound like everyone else in Nashville..."
Despite the lack of radio play, Sawyer Brown was determined to move forward. With a rigorous touring schedule of over 220 shows per year, they built a base of loyal fans throughout the United States. Sawyer Brown's energetic performance on stage was one of the reasons their concerts continued to draw large audiences; the group's musicianship and song writing abilities boosted record sales among their growing following and accounted for their longevity despite lack of mainstream success during the 1980s.
1990 marked a turning point for the band. Sawyer Brown welcomed guitarist/songwriter Duncan Cameron to the group as Randall departed--the only change within the band since its start. The group's 1991 album The Dirt Road, featuring "The Walk," a single written by Miller, as well as Café on the Corner, released the following year, each received favorable critical reviews and went on to become gold records. Sawyer Brown had claimed their position as one of Nashville's top country bands, and the popularity of "The Walk" helped solidify their spot among country music's most respected acts. A poignant look at the growth of a relationship between a father and son, the song garnered several media top ten honors and held chart-topping positions for weeks on end. In 1999, Miller still felt like Sawyer Brown had more ground to walk. He stated in Country Music, "We're still not widely accepted by the industry, and I think that keeps an edge on us. That keeps us hungry. We're not, never have been and are never going to be the darlings of the month. So that keeps us fighting."
The 1991 hit album The Dirt Road was not the only "dirt road" for lead singer Mark Miller. During off-stage hours, Miller, along with brother, Frank, developed a strong herd of Polled Hereford cattle at his Tennessee farm familiarly named Dirt Road Farms. Miller commented in Successful Farming, "When my brother and I attended our first sale, we didn't even have a farm name. I bought a cow and had to think of a name on the spot." Miller continued, "I blurted out the name `Dirt Road Farms' and it stuck."
Farming is not the only extracurricular activity for Miller. At 39 years of age, Miller became the only multimillion-selling recording artist ever to sign a pro sports contract. Miller played backup point guard for the Continental Basketball Association's Fort Wayne Fury in Indiana. In a Billboard review of Drive Me Wild, Chuck Taylor stated, "Mark Miller always puts an abundance of energy and personality into everything he does, whether it's singing, dancing, or, for that matter, playing basketball." (Miller has had five knee surgeries to prove it.) Miller started with the team tryouts in October 1996 and played with the team for two years. Although he did not "dress out for the 1998-99 season," Miller remained part of the team. Because of Miller's involvement with the team, and the group's desire to be more selective in concert dates, Sawyer Brown went from an average of 220 concerts a year to a little over 100.
Sawyer Brown's wealth of original material, most of it penned by Miller, was supplemented when songwriter Mac McAnally hooked up with the group on their 1992 release, Café on the Corner. The successful songwriting partnership of Miller and McAnally found its way into the recording studio when McAnally signed on as co-producer of both Café on the Corner and 1993's Outskirts of Town. McAnally continued to be influential in the 1999's release Drive Me Wild, Sawyer Brown's sixteenth album which he co-produced with Miller. Miller knows that McAnally has been an important influence on the band. He told Country Music, "Mac came up with this philosophy a few years ago ... before Café on the Corner... he said, `You guys should just figure out what it is you want to say, and we'll make records about it.' And that's been the philosophy."
In 1999 Sawyer Brown observed its eighteenth year in Nashville. What has led to the group's success in a business that has the odds stacked against them? Miller says simply that the band isn't done yet. He stated in a Curb Record press release, "It's been a case of looking at ourselves and saying, `We can do more. We can be better. We still have things to say, and we want you to hear it.'" Miller also observed that there is nothing to complain about. He said in Country Music, "At this stage in our career how could we get upset about anything?" Miller continues with a shrug, "We're still here! ... Ultimately God has his hand in everything. There's a reason why we're still here. I don't think any of us could pinpoint it and tell you why. It's just one of those meant-to-be kind of things."
by Julie Sweet
Sawyer Brown's Career
Group formed as Savannah, c. 1981; changed name to Sawyer Brown and worked the club circuit in Nashville, TN; won grand prize on Star Search, 1984; signed with Capitol Records, 1985; released first number one single "Step That Step," 1985; signed with Curb Records, 1993; October 25, 1998, marked the band's 3,000th show.
Sawyer Brown's Awards
Winners of Star Search competition, 1984; Horizon Award, Country Music Association, 1985; named TNN/Music City News vocal band of the year, 1993; Video Group of the Year Award, Country Music Television (CMT), 1993.
- Selected discography
- Out Goin' Cattin , Liberty, 1986.
- Shakin' , Liberty 1986.
- Sawyer Brown , Liberty 1987.
- Somewhere in the Night , Liberty, 1987.
- Wide Open , Liberty, 1988.
- The Boys Are Back , Liberty, 1989.
- Buick , Liberty, 1991.
- Café on the Corner , Capitol, 1992.
- The Dirt Road , Liberty, 1992.
- Outskirts of Town , Capitol/Curb, 1993.
- Greatest Hits 1990-1995 , Curb, 1995.
- This Thing Called Wantin' and Havin' It All , Curb, 1995.
- Treat Her Right/She's Getting There , (EP), Curb, 1996.
- Hallelujah He Is Born , (Christmas album), Atlantic, 1997.
- Six Days on the Road , Curb, 1997.
- Drive Me Wild , Curb, 1999.
- Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Amusement Business(New York), August 3, 1998, p. 5.
- Atlanta Constitution, March 4, 1999, p. C7.
- Billboard, December 5, 1998, p. 85; March 6, 1999, p. 25; May 29, 1999, p. 22.
- Country Music, June/July 1999, p. 60.
- People Weekly, December 15, 1997, p. 71.
- Successful Farming (Des Moines), December 1998, p. B10.
- USA Today, March 9, 1999, p. D3.
- Washington Post, May 4, 1998, p. D5.
- "Sawyer Brown Discography," Rolling Stone. com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (December 3, 1999).
- "Sawyer Brown," Curb Records biography, db.system-x.com/curb2/artists/artistbio_T1.cfm?1D=57 (November 22, 1999).
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