Sawyer Brown still doing exactly what they want

Published on March 30th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Many people in the music business like the idea of labeling performers by musical genres. However, most musicians actually like a range of music and hate labels. That is certainly true of Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard of the country band Sawyer Brown.

“I grew up listening to everything since my folks had all sorts of records,” he said. “I was always less worried about a label, but then I decided that there are two categories of music: Stuff I like and stuff I don’t.”

Hubbard grew up loving the classic harmonies of Buck Owens, backed by Don Rich, and was “blown away” by great songwriters such as Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard.

“They write from such honesty and truth, and from the time I was a kid it was always the great songwriters that I really loved,” he said. “It really was about listening to the song and finding the connections because good music makes a connection and to be a part of that is just incredible.”

Something must be going right as the group has recorded twenty albums with more than fifty songs making the Billboard charts. Much of it is about that dedication and the inspiration to keep writing, which they still get by their admiration of classic country writers such as Bill Anderson, one of the most prolific songwriters in history.

“There is not a time we don’t run into Bill Anderson where he’s not writing,” he said. “It inspires us to keep doing what is in our heart and mind. We have always had a lot of drive and hunger for doing this and we don’t rest on it. We have a great gift and we just want to keep going. When we started we looked at bands like Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Dirt Band, and we wanted to be able to do what they were doing for a long time.”

Sawyer Brown is Hubbard, Mark Miller, Joe Smyth, Shayne Hill and Jim Scholten. One of the keys is they still enjoy what they are doing.

“We are 34 years into it and it is every bit as much fun as ever because we get to do what we want,” he said. “I’m a huge Tony Bennett fan, and he doesn’t sound good for an 88 year old. He just sounds good. Part of it is the enthusiasm for what is he does and he always works. He has found what is true to him and that’s the key for any of us.”

When Sawyer Brown started, they had a very fast lesson in the desire of the industry to find a way for them to fit in.

“When we first started, we would get comments like ‘You are too young’ and ‘you don’t sound like anyone else,’” he said. “Like that’s a problem? Music is about things that are new and fresh, but that can get lost in the shuffle. I certainly get it that radio is a conduit to the music, but people will always find the music.”

For Hubbard, the biggest thing is the live experience and bringing it home for the fans.

“That’s sort of where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “I love to see live music or live theater. It is about the immediacy and either someone delivers the good or they don’t. I’m not looking for perfection when I see someone live, but to me it is crazy because you see people so obsessed with filming the show. They go back home and watch it on a little screen, but the missed the impact of it live.”

But the audience certainly is the entire key to a Sawyer Brown show.

“The audience brings an incredible energy that fuels the whole deal for us and for them too,” Hubbard said. “There’s nothing like live music I would go all the time if I could, but it’s just that we are working when everyone else is working.”

He also points out the importance of having fun on stage and not taking things too seriously.

“In the early years we were doing 300 days on the road a year and playing clubs which meant multiple shows so we were getting to hone our craft,” he said. “You can’t have everything set in stone because things are going to happen. The show belongs to the audience and you have to roll with it. Sometimes you have to fly by the seat of the pants.”

And if the show belongs to the audience, they may not care that things are going wrong,

“I’ve had the keyboard stand break and my keyboard fall to the floor, so I can sit like Schroeder [from Peanuts] and play on the stage that way,” he said. “You have to find a way to have fun with it and we do.”


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