Up Close And Personal – 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Sawyer Brown
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How do you live down fame, and why would you? In the era of the 15-minute glory of the American Idol kind, the story of Sawyer Brown is paradoxical. Nationally famous but taking a lot of road grit and hardship to be accepted as one of Nashville’s very own.
Fame may be a capricious mistress, acceptance is a hard taskmaster, but Sawyer Brown didn’t break and plodded on, tour after tour, venue after venue – lit, live, and loud. Who’s going to deny 37 years of musical history? Their story speaks for itself, and you better listen up!
#5 – All Roads Lead To Sawyer Brown
If a band can be named after an insect or a state or a park, why not a road?
The story begins at the University of Central Florida when singer and main songwriter hooked up with Gregg Hubbard aka Hobbie in the latter part of the 1970s.
Country/pop singer and songwriter Don King by then has been making his mark on the Billboard chart and by 1979 was hitting the road with the likes of Alabama and Tammy Wynette.
Future Sawyer Brown drummer Joe Smyth and guitarist Bobby Randall signed on as part of King’s road band, later joined by Jim Scholten on bass and the Florida duo of Miller and Hobie in 1980.
However, come 1981, King made other plans, and his then still unnamed road band decided to become a band of their own.
They moved to Nashville and decided to call themselves Savannah, but decided to change when another country band came out with the name.
They took on their final iteration as Sawyer Brown, picking up the name of the street where they practiced.
“We actually took the name from a road here in Bellevue…it’s Sawyer Brown Road,” Miller explained in an interview.
Miller amusingly also tells of being mistaken as “Mr. Sawyer” and would good-naturedly answer to the name. “From what I understand, the road separated Sawyer Farm from the Brown Farm, and it ended up being called Sawyer Brown Road.”
And another strange thing you probably don’t know about the band members, Randall, Smyth, and Scholten all used to be members of the Maine Symphony Orchestra before ending up in Nashville.
#2 – Almost Famous
So there they were, five guys with ambition and the music and they worked hard to make their mark. They went on tour for two years, playing nearly 5 sets a night with 6-day gigs in a week but fame and fortune was elusive. Until they decided to audition for the grandmama of talent shows, Star Search, in 1983 to give the band some kind of exposure and promotion.
Hobie tells it as it is, “The funny thing about that is, we only auditioned for that show to get a videotape.”
The Ed McMahon hosted talent show proved to be the proverbial launchpad. Who would have thought they would end up winning the whole damn thing, $100,000 and contract and all. Not any of them.
Miller adds, “I tell my kids, we were the original American Idols, and they go yeah, right Dad.”
Capitol Records signs them, and they release their first Top 20 Billboard hit single “Leona” in 1984. Now they were famous enough to even tour with country greats Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.
A lot of people thought they just road the tailgate to fame with their TV appearance so, in 1985, Miller wrote of pain and perseverance coming out with Sawyer Brown’s first chart-topping hit “Step That Step”.
#3 – Fame Isn’t Enough
If you think having two hits were enough to shut their naysayers, think again. Their TV appearance and relative fame just didn’t give them the country cred that Nashville wanted to anoint you as country-fied.
As Hobie explained it, “We were so far left of center in Nashville…‘you’re too young’, ‘you move around too much,’ ‘you don’t wear cowboy boots/hats’, ‘you’re too everything.” 
Sawyer Brown was just too much for Nashville with the big hair and rock mullets. But the band stuck to their guns. “This is what we do, and this is what we’re going to do,” reminisced Hobie.
#2 – 300 Dates
To prove that they had the country cred, Sawyer Brown announced a 300-day tour and went to nearly every county fair, honky tonk, and bar they could get a gig on (they scaled it down to 220, but still…).
Even now, Hobie cannot explain how they did it all and not lose their sanity and each other (bands are rife with road stories that lead to fisticuffs and early demise).
“Those shows…were like our college. We were in our 20s too, so I suppose there is a benefit of youth,” he recalls.
But the great thing about the touring and sticking to their music and the spirit of who they were, the band’s faithful following increased. They have fans coming up to them talking about watching the group on Star Search and their 1980s music.
That amazing connection that they had with their early fans continue on with Sawyer Brown’s 100-day tour 37 years after they became famous.
Hobie continues to be amazed, “That connection we made and still have with music fans. It continues to be about that connection.”
Miller speaks of it as a cult following that you couldn’t notice anymore if they had a hit or not.
#1 – Spitfire Lives And Music
It has always been about the music for Sawyer Brown, no matter the roads they took to be one of country music’s most consistent and sought-after touring bands. They sure have remained faithful to their roots, but what matters most is being loyal to their music.
Their early music might have reflected the exuberance and big-hair extravagance of the 1980s, but it’s Miller’s gravelly and whiskey voice coupled with Sawyer Brown’s spitfire and lively public performances that gave the band so much longevity and popularity despite Nashville and mainstream music’s snub.
Randall left the band in 1990 to spend more time with family and in steps guitarist and songwriter Duncan Cameron. With just one audition, he got in. And good things start happening.
In 1991, the band released “The Dirt Road” and Miller-penned their next big hit “The Walk” and Sawyer Brown finally got the critical recognition that eluded them. Their follow-up in 1992, “Cafe on the Corner” also gave them a gold album and critical raves.
The band is still known for their unrestrained enthusiasm, but they are also working on being the voice of the working-class, the tired whispers and longings of simple folks. As drummer Smyth sums it up, “The energy is still there, but we’ve all grown up a bunch.”