Sawyer Brown is an American country music band that gained fame by winning the grand prize on the talent show Star Search in 1983. The band’s current lineup consists of lead vocalist Mark Miller, keyboardist Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard, guitarist Shayne Hill, bass guitarist Jim Scholten and drummer Joe “Curley” Smyth. In addition to Miller, Hubbard, Scholten and Smyth, the band originally featured lead guitarist Bobby Randall, who was later replaced by Duncan Cameron in 1991 until 2004, when he was replaced by Hill.
The group’s members were originally part of country pop singer Don King’s road band. When King stopped touring in 1981, the group decided to stay together, taking the name Sawyer Brown after Sawyer Brown Road, the street where they rehearsed. The band played up to five sets a night, six days a week, until they auditioned for the TV show Star Search in 1983. They auditioned just to get the videotape to promote the band, yet ended up winning the $100,000 grand prize and record contract.
The band signed with Capitol Records and scored a Top 20 hit with their first single, “Leona”, in 1984. That success was quickly followed by their first Number-One hit, “Step That Step”. The band had their ups and downs on the charts throughout the 1980s, landing only sporadic Top Ten hits; however, they had accumulated enough hits for a Greatest Hits package by 1990, and were very successful on the touring circuit.
In 1991, after the release of their album, Buick, guitarist Bobby Randall left the group to remain close to his family and host a short-lived TV talent show, You Can Be a Star. Duncan Cameron, formerly of The Amazing Rhythm Aces, was chosen as his replacement just as Sawyer Brown was about to become country music’s “it” band. The band then switched labels, moving to Curb Records and releasing the albums, The Dirt Road, Cafe on the Corner, and Outskirts of Town, which saw hit after hit for the band in the early to mid-’90s.
Part of the band’s new-found success was due to singer-songwriter Mac McAnally, who had written several songs for the group. The McAnally-penned songs, mostly ballads, helped to re-define Sawyer Brown, who up until this point had been reviled by many critics for being a flamboyant “bubble gum” pop act that emphasized style over substance. “The Walk”, the final single off the Buick album, is said to be the turning point for the group.
Following “The Walk”, the band scored a number of Top Five and Top Ten hits, including two more Billboard Number Ones with 1992’s “Some Girls Do”, and 1993’s “Thank God for You”, which Mark Miller co-wrote with Mac McAnally. By 1995 Sawyer Brown had enough hits for a second Greatest Hits package. The album, titled Greatest Hits 1990 to 1995, included two new singles, “This Time” and “I Don’t Believe in Goodbye”, which both became Top Five hits.
In the latter half of the 1990s, the group seemed to gradually fall out of favor with country radio, despite a crossover hit in 1999 with “Drive Me Wild”. They parted ways with Curb in 2003 and signed with Lyric Street Records. One single was released on Lyric Street before Sawyer Brown left that label as well. The group returned to Curb Records in 2004, just as Duncan Cameron decided to leave the group to pursue a life-long dream of flying for Southwest Airlines. Guitarist Shayne Hill replaced Duncan’s post as guitarist, although both Cameron and Hill are in the credits on Mission Temple Fireworks Stand. The album’s title track, featuring Robert Randolph, peaked at Number 55. The second single off that album, “They Don’t Understand”, was a minor Top 40 hit on the country charts, and Top 20 on the Christian single charts.
Taking no prisoners and laying waste to the country fans who show up has given Sawyer Brown the reputation of being a band the other acts don’t want to follow, but it’s also built them a fan-base that shows up no matter what.
“It’s crazy,” Miller says. “It’s almost like Jimmy Buffett’s fans who come not because of the new record or the new song, but because they know they’re gonna have fun. We’ve got kids who grew up listening to their parents’ records coming now - and they’re totally into it. But that’s what you wanna do - maintain what you’ve created. When it’s showing people a good time, well, that’s a pretty great thing to have to keep up.”