Sawyer Brown - 'Almost Legal'
Sawyer Brown Turns Twenty
They've been called the Rolling Stones of country music, and really, that's no exaggeration. For 20 years, Sawyer Brown has set the pace and continues to go the distance with fresh, fun and relevant songs that challenge themselves as musicians while creating personal experiences for their listeners. And their live shows - over 3,000 (and counting!) - are legendary for the excitement, energy and emotion they generate. Herein lies the secret of the band's youthful longevity.
Vocalist Mark Miller, keyboardist Gregg "Hobie" Hubbard, lead guitarist Duncan Cameron, bassist Jim Scholten and drummer Joe Smyth marked this phenomenal two-decade milestone with the June 11th release of their 18th album, Can You Hear Me Now.
"There's a great deal of diversity on this album," promises Gregg, who says that Can You Hear Me Now took more than two years to record, owing to the band's maniacal touring schedule and personal priorities. "There are things that are just flat out fun like 'I Need A Girlfriend' - although when you're sittin' home alone on a Friday it's not so fun.
"And then there's 'I Got A Plan,' which, to me, is as beautiful a thing as Mark has ever written. We cover a lot of ground and that makes it a more interesting album. You listen to it and I hope you get a fuller picture of real people behind it, instead of 10 songs that are all the same thing."
While Sawyer Brown is a country music powerhouse, it's the "real people" that comprise the band, and each bring an individual, albeit thoroughly complementary perspective to the creative process.
Mark, who subsists on a steady diet of basketball, coaches hoops for his daughter's, son's and a high school varsity team, and was a pro baller until just a year ago. Gregg is a newly minted liberal arts graduate of Nashville's Belmont University with a whopping 4.0 grade point average. Joe, a Maine native, is a Civil War historian who has made significant contributions as a preservationist. Duncan, who's as competent in the cockpit as he is agile with the six-string, is a former commercial airline pilot and now flies and works on his own plane. As for Jim, in addition to playing chauffeur to his two teenagers, his inquisitive nature draws him to literature, films and people and, according to Gregg, "You can drop Jim into a room full of strangers and he will find things to talk about with everybody and walk away happy."
Though these interests are as seemingly diverse as the album itself, Gregg points out, "The fact that not everybody is comin' from the same place just keeps everything fresh. But the one thing we invariably have in common is our belief in what it is that we're doin'; that we just will not give up on this. As long as we feel that there's music there to make, we are willing to work as hard as it takes to keep that going. That is one thing that has never changed."
Can You Hear Me Now was recorded in Mark's internationally acclaimed studio that he and co-producer Brian Tankersley built, which Gregg says, made for an inspiring and flexible work environment.
"It was our little kingdom, and the music was free to happen when it was ready to happen. It didn't feel like a studio where there was clock-watching goin' on. We could go in whenever. Work during the day, people could scatter and take their kids to what they needed to do, come back after dinner. It allowed things to progress as they needed to over the course of the work," Gregg reveals. "Everybody felt so up about the project and we were tryin' new things and the songs were comin' together really well."
Formed in 1982 as an outgrowth of singer Don King's band, Sawyer Brown's Midas touch has turned more than 20 songs into Top 10 hits and millions of albums sold. They were the TNN Awards golden boys for six years running as Vocal Band of the Year, earned ACM honors as Top Vocal Group, and garnered a CMA Horizon Award right out of the gate in 1985. They've made over 30 videos, and, just as remarkable, the band has remained with Curb Records - the label that signed them shortly after their Star Search grand prize win in 1984 - for their entire career. In an industry where loyalty is more fiction than fact, and artists with half the tenure of Sawyer Brown's switch labels more often than tires are rotated, it's yet another testament to Mark and company's staying power and genuine character.
"We've seen other acts that have come and gone over the course of time that we've been blessed to still be doin' this, and sometimes you could look from the outside and see that their focus was on the hoopla end of the music business, which is the thing that, to this day, matters nothing to us whatsoever. It's not about going to the right parties; it's about the joy of the work. Being able to do this is, in and of itself, its own reward. And that's a common bond for us."