More than 35 years on the road and Sawyer Brown is still making new fans

by Sue Guynn. 0 Comments

Sawyer Brown
(Courtesy photo)

Sawyer Brown may sing about “Six Days on the Road,” but for this country band it’s been more like 37 years — and counting — on the road.

“I live my life in pencil,” said Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard, keyboardist for the band. With touring, recording and other commitments, nothing is set in stone when it comes to scheduling.

Sawyer Brown is scheduled for one show at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick, beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22. (We’re writing that in ink!) Tickets are $36.75 to $66.75. The concert is part of the 99.9 WFRE Free Country Rewind Series, which will bring Rodney Atkins to the stage on May 9.

Hubbard, who hails from Florida, is one of the founding members of Sawyer Brown, along with longtime friend and lead vocalist Mark Miller. “I’ve known Mark since he was 13 years old,” Hubbard said.

“Four of the five us [in the band] have been together since Day 1. It’s truly a brotherhood and getting along is a real cool aspect of this,” he said. “I suppose you could do this with people you don’t like but it would be challenging!” 

A good sense of humor is essential to five guys spending days and nights on the road inside a tour bus and walking out still best friends, he said.

“One of the great things about being in a band is that you can’t get too big for your britches because you have four other guys who are ready to pop your bubble,” he said with a laugh.

Musically, the band has been on the same page from the beginning. The Sawyer Band sound “just happened, and continues to happen “when we get together to play,” songs about real-life, blue-collar working-class life experiences.

“We may not agree on where to eat but our work ethic and music direction is the same,” he said.

The band has earned multiple awards and had several chart-topping hits including rousing “Step That Step,” “Some Girls Do,” “Thank God for You,” “Shakin'” and the tear-jerking ballad “The Walk,” and “It Wasn’t His Child,” a song about a man raising a son that was not his own — the man was Joseph, the son was Jesus.

The band released its 23rd album in 2011 that includes songs about their music journey and is titled, appropriately enough, “Travelin’ Band.”

The road to stardom

The band got together in Nashville as a touring band for other performers. It was a good experience, Hubbard said. And like all good things, that ended.

In 1983, the TV show “Star Search,” hosted by Ed McMahon, rolled into Nashville for auditions and the guys thought it would be a good opportunity to get a demo tape to take to record labels. 

“It was the first season, and we had seen the pilot. We just wanted to get the videotape from the audition. That was all we wanted from the process,” Hubbard said. And they did. A few days later they also got a call to head to L.A., they were selected as contestants on the talent show.

“We rolled into town like the Clampetts. We were only missing Granny in the rocking chair on the roof,” Hubbard said. “We had an old schoolbus we had renovated and it rode like a school bus!

“We had no idea what we were doing, but it was a great experience,” he said of the show. Most of the contestants were already working in their field but, like Sawyer Brown, were looking for their big break.

Each week, as Sawyer Brown came back to perform, the energy and Miller’s fancy footwork amped up. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5f6g2_3njY)

By the season’s end, Sawyer Brown was becoming a household name and the band walked away with the $100,000 grand prize.

“We invested most of it into a tour bus that we literally rode the wheels off of,” he said. “Most of the time we still travel by bus.”

While they may have been a hit in the living rooms of America, Hubbard said the music business in Nashville wasn’t so sure about this high-energy act. “In 1982 to ’87, we were so far left of center in Nashville. We heard ‘you’re too young’, ‘you move around too much,’ ‘you don’t wear cowboy boots/hats’, ‘you’re too everything’,” he said. (However, they were rocking big hair and mullets!)

No matter. “We said this is what we do and this is what we’re going to do,” and they still do.

“It was and still is a really energetic stage show,” Hubbard said. “That’s what we do.” Mark Miller draws from his high-energy Pentecostal background with dance moves on stage. Hubbard says he’s a Presbyterian, a “little quieter” than Pentecostal and sometimes called the “frozen chosen.” They balance each other.

While the band is working on new music, Hubbard said this show at the Weinberg will feature their familiar hits.

“I go to live music all the time and it’s really true people come to hear what they know,” he said. “Playing new songs are guaranteed to send people to the bathroom or the beer line.

“We’re looking forward to coming back to Frederick,” he said.

— — —

All the guys are “equal opportunity” jokesters on the road. But since the advent of Internet access on the road, “we spend a lot of time on our computers, watching sports, solving the world’s problems,” Hubbard said. “We do a good bit of sleeping. We tend to travel at night.” 

The million dollar — or rather the millionth time the question has been asked — is where did the name “Sawyer Brown” come from? It’s not unusual for people to think that lead vocalist Mark Miller’s name is Sawyer Brown. 

Originally, the band was called Savanna. It was kind of uninteresting and over-used so the band members got together to come up with something that was much more interesting and original, “and we wanted it to sound like a person,” Hubbard said.

“It’s the name of a road in Nashville,” Hubbard said. The road ran through two farms, one owned by the Sawyer family, the other the Brown family.

Each of the band members have other interests, too. Mark Miller discovered the Christian band Casting Crowns and produces their albums. He also produces albums for Christian artist Hannah Kerr.

Joe Smyth, percussionist, has a “spirit for teaching” and instructs youth in percussion instruments.

Jim Scholten, bassist, plays on numerous recording sessions for other artists and plays in the praise band in his church when he’s home.

Shayne Hill, considered “the new guy” since he joined the band in 2004, grew up playing in his family’s band and has toured with LeAnn Rimes and Avalon, among others. He has his own recording studio.

Hubbard teaches writing, from songs to literature, and enjoys mentoring young writers. He has written many of Sawyer Brown’s songs including “The Dirt Road,” “Drive Me Wild,” “Outskirts of Town” and several songs on the band’s Christmas albums.

After high school, he attended the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “At one point, I wanted your job,” he said in the phone interview. “I wanted to write. But I realized I wanted to give [music] a shot so I moved to Nashville. And as all good musicians do, I worked as a waiter” to make a living before the music thing took root.

He said it is great to see country music open up and “embrace all the styles of country music. It doesn’t have to be just one thing.”

The band is working on new music that Hubbard said “suspiciously will turn into an album — sooner than later.”

Sawyer Brown
(Courtesy photo)

You can read an edited version of this post in the Aug. 19 edition of 72 Hours.

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