Brown: Twenty Years After Winning CMA Horizon Award,
Multi-Platinum Band is Still Thriving
By j. poet
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.
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."
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
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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."
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
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."
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
the Web: www.sawyerbrownfanclub.com
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.