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The success of Sawyer Brown

November 17, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

A good rapport with each other and a constant focus on making good music have kept Sawyer Brown on the stage and on the radio for almost two decades.

"So many bands don't make it too far down the road," says keyboardist Gregg "Hobie" Hubbard.

cont. from lifestyle

Hubbard acknowledges that Sawyer Brown's ability to stay together for 18 years with only one band member change is unusual.

"We're genuinely friends, and that's important," says Hubbard, 39. The group also never has lost sight of its focus on making good music.

When the band first came together, it was hard to get a record deal in the music business. Just a few years ago, Hubbard says it seems like the floodgates opened and anyone could cut an album.

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"There's too many acts," he says, and often it's hard to tell the difference between them. "As a listener, I want something that sounds different."

Sawyer Brown is still able to stand out among the masses of country performers, Hubbard says.

"Mark (Miller) has an extremely identifiable voice," he says. It helps, too, that the group has made enough stage and television performances that a visual image comes to mind in listeners' heads when their tunes are heard.

"You need something that clicks in people's minds," Hubbard says.

Hubbard will be joined on the stage of The Maryland Theatre Sunday, Nov. 21, by fellow members Miller, founder and lead singer, bassist Jim Scholten, lead guitarist Duncan Cameron and drummer Joe Smyth.

The local show is billed as "Sawyer Brown Christmas" but will feature about 35 minutes of nonholiday music, Hubbard said in an interview from Nashville, Tenn.

In 1997, Sawyer Brown released its only Christmas album, "Hallelujah He Is Born." Ten of the 12 songs on it are originals, mostly written by Miller, Hubbard and longtime collaborator Mac McAnally.

"I've wanted to do one as long as we've been making records," Hubbard says of the Christmas compilation. The group wanted to focus on "not so much the Frosty the Snowman side of Christmas," but on the spiritual aspects, he says.

"So often the greatest music ever written has been written around Christmas," Hubbard says.

When writing their holiday songs, the band members didn't have any trouble keeping the traditional holiday tunes out of their heads.

"It's such an incredible time of year. There's no shortage of what you want to write about," Hubbard says.

Two classics are on the album: "Little Drummer Boy" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." They're favorites of the band members.

While still enjoying the success of their holiday venture, the band released its 16th album, "Drive Me Wild," in March.

"It was a lot of work and a lot of actual fun," Hubbard says.

The background sound on "Drive Me Wild" is different from what is heard on previous albums, including some Beach Boys-like harmonies, Hubbard says.

That's not to say that the band's other style didn't bring success.

Sawyer Brown received six consecutive Top Vocal Band trophies from The Nashville Network/Music City News Country Awards and in 1994 was recognized as the top grossing country group. It also has created 28 hit music videos, four of which earned the title of Video of the Year from Country Music Television.

Hubbard says the variety of audiences keeps concerts fun, as does the camaraderie among the guys.

"We certainly have knuckleheadish tendencies. There's a ton of humor. It keeps the day rolling," Hubbard says.

And while the bus is rolling on those long road trips, what keeps the group's spirits high? Satellites that allow tons of sports channels to come in clearly no matter where they are.

"Is life not good?" Hubbard says with a hearty laugh. The only debate is over who gets to watch what event.

"It's whoever gets the clicker first," he says.

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