Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown remembers trying to break into the Nashville scene but getting rebuffed for the band’s look and sound.
Miller, who is the lead vocalist and plays rhythm guitar in the group, talks about those early times in Nashville on Marty Smith’s podcast, “The Road You Leave Behind With Marty Smith,” for Outsider.
“We became really popular quick in Nashville and then clubs from all over the South heard about us, so we started traveling and doing sit-down gigs,” Mark Miller said. He mentions Jackson, Miss., Daytona Beach, Fla, Virginia, and Charlotte, N.C., as some of the places Sawyer Brown would go to and play.
Other members of the band include Jim Scholten, Joe Smyth, Gregg Hubbard, and Shayne Hill.
Sawyer Brown’s popularity really began to rise in the 1980s, but the performances started taking their toll. The band also faced the country-focused eyes of Nashville music labels.
“But we were doing six sets a night and six days a week and, you know, and traveled,” Miller said. “But the funny thing is is Nashville still wouldn’t accept us because we were, in their description, too wild and too rock n’ roll to get a deal.”
Mark Miller Says Band Looked, Acted Like Rolling Stones
Sawyer Brown was going to give “Star Search,” hosted by longtime “The Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon, a chance.
Mark Miller said that the band exhausted every avenue they could think of up to that moment. The band won the competition in 1983 with a grand prize of $100,000 and a recording contract.
“You know we saved our money, made a demo tape, we’d done showcase after showcase in town,” he said. “And we couldn’t get any traction at all because we dressed like The Rolling Stones and we acted like The Rolling Stones.”
Smith replies, “Nashville wasn’t ready for that yet.”
“No, no they were not,” Miller said. “And I get it but I also knew that you know, Alabama had just come on the scene. I knew that we weren’t Alabama and couldn’t be Alabama because there was already an Alabama.”
Miller Reflects Back to Growing Up With Rock N’ Roll
Mark Miller remembers growing up in Florida and what types of music he listened to in his youth.
“I grew up on The Beach Boys, Creedence (Clearwater Revival), you know, ’60s and ’70s, you know, Elton John, Billy Joel, but my mom listened to country music,” Miller said.
“In the car, that’s all we were allowed to listen to, that or Gospel music,” he said. “So that was the hybrid, the influence that came from both directions was that country music. But, you know, all I listened to on the radio was rock n’ roll.” Miller cites Bob Seger as another influence from the rock world, too.
“So when I would write, there would be this, you know, ‘Step That Step’ was my first No. 1 record,” Mark Miller said of the Sawyer Brown hit. “Man, I couldn’t even let the publishing company, I wouldn’t let them demo it because they thought it was so bad.
“So that’s where Nashville was at the time and that’s how we were looked at at the time,” Miller said.