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Sawyer Brown: Twenty Years After Winning CMA Horizon Award, Multi-Platinum Band is Still Thriving 
By j. poet

In these days of instant celebrity, an artist can go from an unknown amateur to a superstar, seemingly overnight. So it's odd to remember back in 1984, when hard-working, experienced band Sawyer Brown won first place on "Star Search," only to find that respect didn't seem to come along with the honor. The band had already logged many miles backing singer Don King, and lead singer Mark Miller's song "Over Under and Around" had been cut by MCA Nashville recording artist Reba McEntire.

Still, Sawyer Brown's flashy clothing and Miller's energy put some people off. "We were all young and unmarried," Miller said. "Before 'Star Search' we'd been doing five or six sets a night, six nights a week for about three years. We were a tight band, but it was a different time. We all grew up with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis and liked their high energy and wild outfits. For us, the rhinestones and jumpsuits translated into gold lamae and striped pants. We brought something less traditional to the party, and the critics and some of the hard-core Country enthusiasts didn't know what to make of it. I can't comment on our 'bad taste;' but when I look at some of those old photos, I think 'My gosh, what were we thinking?' But in our minds we looked like rock stars."

Despite winning the CMA Horizon Award in 1985 and a No. 1 hit with "Step by Step," radio was slow to warm up to the band. Undaunted, Sawyer Brown kept burning down the house at concert halls and clubs across the country.  "The year after 'Star Search' we did 315 dates in 315 cities," Miller said "It was crazy, but the door had been opened for us and by golly we were going to put in the time to lay down the foundation."

More than 20 years later, Sawyer Brown is still going strong, with a loyal following inspiring writers to dub them "The Grateful Dead of Country."  "We do see the same fans at a lot of shows," Miller said. "All along it has been the fans that fueled us. They absolutely overshadowed any criticism we were getting. They come out every night and even in the last three and a half years, with no new record, the crowds were getting bigger and the fans were getting younger. Kids that first saw us with their parents are coming back with their friends. They tell us 'You're the only band that me and my parents both like.' We're loud and we rock and we give them every ounce we have when we're on stage, but it's still safe."

Drummer Joe Smyth said that the band's energy "is what keeps fans coming back, and their energy is part of what keeps us rocking so hard. For us, it's like the more we play, the harder they push us and the better it feels. After an hour and a half, we're slamming harder than when we hit the stage and it just feels incredible."

Diversity is one of Sawyer Brown's strengths. They play an almost metallic brand of rock, hard-core honky tonk, truck driver songs and serious ballads. They're also one of the few bands to acknowledge that just like their fans, they're growing older.

"We set out to be a Country rock band, and since everyone in the band has diverse musical influences we went wherever the music wanted to take us," Miller said. "We make a conscious effort not to repeat ourselves. 'Some Girls Do' was so big it was tempting to write a sequel, but you've got to keep moving and keep living and hope that the same life that brought 'Some Girls' will bring the next one.

"As far as maturing as a writer and a performer, you have more to say at 35 than you do at 25. Artistically, it's like going from finger paint to oils; as we got more serious, people started taking us seriously as artists. There's no time in your life when you don't enjoy a good joke or a song that's sad enough to make you cry. I love songs that can break me down and songs that make me speed up when I'm driving and get me to dancing in the car. It's all part of our human emotions, and artists should be free to go to both places."

On their new album, Keep Your Hands to Yourself, set for release on May 17, Miller and the band are true to their vision.  Rockers include the title track - a cover of the Georgia Satellites' classic - as well as poignant ballads such as "They Don't Understand," a testimony to the power of true love and religious faith from Dean Chance, a songwriter Miller discovered.

"When I was a new songwriter in town, I promised myself that if I ever made it, I'd listen to every demo that got handed to me," Miller said. "I was in a furniture store with my wife, and after a middle-aged gentleman had helped us, he introduced himself and asked me if he could give me a song. He dug out a CD demo from the floor of his car, and on the way home I put it into my deck. At the end of the song I turned to my wife and said 'Is that song as good as I think it is?' and she was sobbing. When I got home and listened to it again, I was sobbing; so I called up the band and after I played it for them, they said we had to record it."

After 23 years as a band and 20 years with Curb Records, Miller and his compatriots agree that they still get the same thrill from working together.  "We survived because we let the music become our lives," Miller said. "And as we've gotten older we've matured. We did tours with conveyor belts where I shot out up out of the floor, with all kinds of costumes and special effects, but when we did surveys of those shows most of the fans said two things: 'Mark sure can dance.' and 'We love the music.' Eventually it seemed like the show was bigger than the band so one day we sent it all home. We realized we don't need all that stuff to play. We're just a pumped up garage band, a big bang Country band and we didn't need all the bells and whistles.

"We all have vastly different personalities, hobbies and lives, but the common thread is the music. Nobody wants to do a solo project, nobody wants to be anything but a member of the band. Sawyer Brown is my life's work. I've always wanted to keep that as my focus, and all the guys are like that."

Miller jokingly said he has only one regret. "Everybody has those pictures of themselves doing goofy things, the pictures that they usually hide in the back of the family album. Since we grew up in the public eye, our embarrassing photos all wound up on album covers where everyone can see them, forever and ever amen."                             

On the Web: www.sawyerbrownfanclub.com

Sawyer Brown will have a booth in the Wrangler® Fan Fair (Exhibit Hall) during CMA Music Festival that takes place in Downtown Nashville, Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12.

Four-day ticket packages are on sale now. Packages are divided into four categories, based on the level of reserved seating at The Coliseum (the Gold Circle and Floor Level ticket packages are already sold out). Four-day ticket packages include the Nightly Concerts at The Coliseum; Daily Concerts at Greased Lightning® Daytime Stages; daily admittance to the Wrangler® Fan Fair (Exhibit Hall) featuring the Acoustic Corner; Bush's® Baked Beans Family Zone; Fun Zone; Sports Zone and performance stage; CMA Music Festival After HoursT; free in-town shuttles; the CMA Music Festival Program Book; CMA Music Festival pin; special discounts to area attractions, restaurants, shops and more.

Four-day ticket packages for CMA Music Festival are easy to purchase. Order over the phone by calling toll-free, 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378); visit www.CMAfest.com to download an order form to fax or mail; visit www.ticketmaster.com to buy online or charge-by-phone at (615) 255-9600. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable.

A limited number of four-day parking passes for The Coliseum are available by phone order only. Call toll-free 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378) to order. The price is $28 for cars; $60 for vans/shuttles; and $120 for RVs/motor coaches. Spaces are limited and no overnight parking is allowed. Free shuttles run all day between major Festival event locations.

For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artists appearing and more, visit www.CMAfest.com and sign up for e-news or purchase official CMA Music Festival merchandise.

 2005 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. CMA Board member Tony Conway is the Executive Producer of CMA Music Festival. MJI Programming, a division of Premiere Radio Networks, is the official radio broadcaster. Chevy, An American RevolutionT, is the official automotive partner of the CMA Music Festival. Promotional partners include Bush's® Baked Beans, Camping World®, CremeSavers® candies, Coca-Cola®, Crisco®, Greased Lightning®, NBC Daytime and Wrangler®. Fan Fair is a registered trademark of CMA.

® 2005 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

 

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