March 20, 2011
At first, they were the very embodiment of a valid reason to suspect the credentials of TV singing contest winners. But over time, they became one of the most thought-provoking and substantial country music bands.
Sawyer Brown began as the backing band for Don King, who had a handful of minor country hits in the late seventies and early eighties. When King stopped touring in 1981, the band decided to strike out on their own. The original lineup of Mark Miller, Bobby Randall, Joe Smyth, Gregg Hubbard, and Jim Scholten named themselves Sawyer Brown after the Nashville street where they often rehearsed.
The band quickly earned a reputation on the road, honing the live act that would keep them in the green during all of their ups and downs at country radio. In 1983, they auditioned for the first season of Star Search, where they were th winning act, securing a $100,000 prize which led to a contract with Capitol Records.
They were a hit from the start, with a handful of big singles from their first two albums, including “Step That Step” and “Betty’s Bein’ Bad.” As the titles indicate, they built their early career on goofy novelty hits, and were known for their outlandish outfits and campy dance moves. Even though they won the CMA Horizon Award in 1985, they weren’t taken terribly seriously by the country music industry.
Their road business never wavered, but as the new traditionalist movement went into full swing, radio airplay was erratic. After “Bad” hit #5 in 1985, the band enjoyed only two more top ten hits in the following five years, one of which was a high-energy cover of the George Jones classic, “The Race is On.” Original guitarist Randall left the band, replaced by Duncan Cameron.
Then, in one of the most surprising second acts in country music history, they resurfaced as a major player in the most competitive era the genre has ever seen, and they did it with a string of serious, thought-provoking songs like “The Walk”, which traced a father-son relationship through time; “Cafe on the Corner”, which captured the stories of several small-towners hard hit by the early nineties recession; and “All These Years”, a harrowing look at a faltering marriage that just might be saved by an act of infidelity.
The personality was there too, with “Some Girls Do” and “Thank God For You” recapturing the energy of their early hits without the accompanying silliness. For most of the decade, the band would remain hitmakers, finally winning a Vocal Group award from the ACM in 1997, and regularly reaching the upper heights of the charts with well-picked covers and strong self-written material.
Their most recent studio album, Mission Temple Fireworks Stand, was among the most critically acclaimed of their career, and spawned their last top forty hit, “They Don’t Understand.” The set was followed in 2008 with a Christmas collection, Rejoice. Their touring schedule remains hectic, with the band regularly playing venues and fairs across the country every summer and fall.
- Step That Step, 1985
- The Walk, 1991
- The Dirt Road, 1992
- Some Girls Do, 1992
- Cafe On the Corner, 1992
- All These Years, 1992
- Thank God For You , 1993
- The Dirt Road, 1992
- Cafe on the Corner, 1992
- Outskirts of Town, 1993
- This Thing Called Wantin’ and Havin’ it All, 1995
- Mission Temple Fireworks Stand, 2005
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