“The Dirt Road”
Written by Gregg Hubbard and Mark Miller
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
January 24, 1992
An eighties band finds their artistic voice in the nineties.
The Road to No. 1
Sawyer Brown started as the backing band for country musician Don King, who had some moderate success on the country charts in the seventies and early eighties. They banded together when King retired from touring, and were originally called Savanna. A last minute name change once they were in Nashville led them to Sawyer Brown, which they took from a road they found in the phone book.
They achieved national attention competing on Star Search, winning the Vocal Group prize in the first season of the series. (Brad Garrett, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, won Comedy the same year.) The victory included a recording contract, and by 1984, the band was releasing its first album on Capitol Records.
They found early success at country radio, with three top five hits from their first two albums, including the No. 1 hit, “Step That Step.” They won the CMA Horizon Award in 1985, and quickly became a popular live act on the road. Radio success was inconsistent as the decade wore on, though they returned to the top five with “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” in 1987 and “The Race is On” in 1989.
Their reputation as a talent show novelty act dogged them, despite their performance chops and them being one of the only country bands to actually play on their own records. But they earned a new credibility when their label took a chance on “The Walk,” a powerful ballad written by lead singer Mark Miller. It revitalized their Buick album, reaching No. 2 after the first two singles had barely charted.
It was included as a bonus track on their next studio album, which was the first to apply the lessons learned from their latest hit.
The No. 1
“The Dirt Road” is also written by Miller, and the band is further complemented by the new producer at the helm, Mac McAnally, who was one of their most important collaborators during their critical and commercial peak.
It’s very much nineties Sawyer Brown. The personality is still there, but there’s a substance to the material and a more organic approach to the production. Miller has a distinctive and expressive vocal style, and he is fully believable as he delivers one of the better country metaphors of its day, comparing life on easy street to the reliable lessons learned on “the dirt road.”
It isn’t even one of the best singles from their excellent nineties run, but it’s still an absolute gem, featuring winning contributions from Earl Scruggs.
The Road From No. 1
Sawyer Brown kicked off a lengthy run of top ten singles with “The Walk,” and they’ll be featured three more times in this series, including with their next release.
“The Dirt Road” gets a B+.
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