Sawyer Brown helped rewrite the definition of "country band" in the '80s and '90s— the same stretch that allowed acts as varied as Exile, Restless Heart, the Kentucky Headhunters and Lonestar a crack a country airplay. Like Alabama before it, Sawyer Brown mixed pop, rock and throwback country elements in its successful quest for sustained, widespread appeal.
Guitarist Bobby Randall, bassist Jim Scholten, drummer Joe Smyth, keyboardist Gregg "Hobie" Hubbard and lead singer Mark Miller first joined forces as the backing band for country singer Don King. After King's retirement, the winners of singing competition series Star Search continued as Sawyer Brown— a name inspired by Nashville's Sawyer Brown Road. Nowadays, Shayne Hill fills Randall's old role as the band's guitarist.
The variety of styles among Sawyer Brown's greatest hits and deepest album cuts —from love songs to light-hearted fare— explains away how a band in country music could stay relevant for so long in the changing landscape of an ever-evolving genre.
Since its commercial heyday, the group has continued releasing albums, including 2002's Can You Hear Me Now and 2011's Travelin' Band.
Read on for Wide Open Country's playlist of the 10 best Sawyer Brown songs.
10. "All These Years"
Gentle, singer-songwriter fare worked for a band known in part for its rocking arrangements and multi-part harmonies. This single from the 1992 album Cafe on the Corner is one of the best examples of the ever-present sensitive side that made for memorable ballads.
9. "Step That Step"
Sped-up, boogie-woogie country music and on-stage performance advice drive the band's first No. 1 single. It's off the group's self-titled 1984 debut album and captures comparable vibes as some of Rodney Crowell's similarly-paced material from the same decade.
8. "Betty's Bein' Bad"
More rockabilly than country, this song about the town hell raiser displays the band's rougher edges—complete with horn accompaniment that could've been lifted from a Hank Williams Jr. jam. It was written by songwriting renegade Marshall Chapman.
7. "The Boys and Me"
This fun, boot-scooting example of '90s country lightning is all about a night of debauchery in a little town, spent alongside your best friends. It's among the best songs to result from the band's longstanding work relationship with songwriter Mac McAnally.
6. "The Dirt Road"
This slice of small-town wisdom about living at the proper pace suggests taking the uncertain yet honorable path instead of the paved, smooth road to success, giving the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-esque tune more lyrical depth than the typical dirt road anthem.
5. "The Walk"
This tender trip down memory lane tells of the irreplaceable love between a father and a son. It's among the best sentimental country songs from the same decade that brought us Vince Gill's "Go Rest High on That Mountain" and Steve Wariner's "Holes in the Floor of Heaven."
4. "Thank God For You"
The band took this catchy blend of country, pop and gospel choir vibes from its the 1993 album Outskirts of Town to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Again, it's an example of the group's mastery of incorporating disparate styles in a way that was easy for radio listeners to digest.
3. "The Race is On"
At a time when NASCAR's widespread popularity made country music more cosmopolitan, Sawyer Brown had fun with this Gorge Jones cover that compares raceway excitement to relationship drama. Though it's a much older song, it brings the sort of wordplay that made "Small Talk" and "Like a John Deere" so clever.
3. "Six Days on the Road"
This rockabilly homage was an old truck driving song from the '60s, made famous by Dave Dudley. Based on it and our prior pick, Sawyer Brown joined Alan Jackson in teaching a new generation the classics through its cover song selection.
1. "Some Girls Do"
"I ain't first class but I ain't white trash" became an iconic line and a defining statement in the '90s— a time when hook-driven banger after hook-driven banger propelled country music to the mainstream. Indeed, it's an ideal cross of Hal Ketchum's small-town story-songs and Joe Diffie's modern honky-tonk anthems.
Honorable mention songs: "Drive Me Wild," "Shakin'," "I Don't Believe in Goodbye," "When Love Comes Callin'," "Treat Her Right," "Puttin' the Dark Back Into the Night," "My Baby's Gone," "Trouble on the Line," "Leona," "Heart Don't Fall Now," "Used to Blue," "Hard to Say," "This Thing Called Wantin' and Havin' It All," "This Missin' You Heart of Mine," "This Night Won't Last Forever," "Out Goin' Cattin'," "800 Pound Jesus," "My Baby Drives a Buick" and "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" (Feat. Robert Randolph).
This story was first published in 2018.
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