Sawyer Brown band members from left are Shayne Hill, Joe Smyth, Gregg Hubbard and Mark Miller. Contributed photo

Believe it or not, I remember an old TV talent show called “Star Search” hosted by Ed McMahon (long before “America’s Got Talent” or “The Voice” or others of that ilk) and it was in 1983 when a young band named Sawyer Brown made up of Mark Miller, Bobby Randall, Joe Smyth, Jim Scholten and Gregg Hubbard won the grand prize of $100,000 and a recording contract. What was really neat about the band was the fact that their drummer, Joe “Curly” Smyth, hailed from Maine and their sound that encompassed country and pop/rock (and was captured on 20 studio albums) became a staple on the radio with such hits as “Leona” (their first single and a Top 20 hit), “Step That Step,” “The Walk,” “Some Girls Do,” “Thank God for You,” “This Time” and “I Don’t Believe in Goodbye.” When I learned that they were coming to perform at the Augusta Civic Center on Dec. 3rd, I expressed an interest in chatting with a member of the band and not long after that I received a call from Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard (keys/piano) on November 15th and our conversation began.

Hubbard: Hello, Lucky … this is Hobie from Sawyer Brown.

Q: Hello, sir, how are you doing?
Hubbard: So far, so good.

Q: Good to hear. Now, you guys are heading back to Maine, right?
Hubbard: Yeah, we are, for the first time in quite a while so it’ll be nice to be back. Our drummer is from Westbrook so it’s like a trip home for him (chuckle).

Q: So, what can folks expect from Sawyer Brown this time ‘round?
Hubbard: Well, we are super glad to be back working after that forced hiatus of last year. So between June and a couple of weeks after we’re up there, we will have done 70 shows this year. We hit it hard once we got back on the road, and I think it’s been more fun than ever because we definitely missed playing. So expect a lot of fun ‘cause we’re ready to get out there.

Q: Do you have something new that you’re supporting with this tour?
Hubbard: Nope, just bringing the hits, as they say; so no new record right now.

Q: Is that something you’re working on?
Hubbard: We have been working off and on for a little while, we thought we had one finished and then we realized that we’ve got some other stuff we want to do, so I would say within the next year or so there will be new stuff.

Q: Any chance that folks at the show in Augusta will hear some of that new material?
Hubbard: I would say “no” if I were a betting man (laughter) but I’d never say never, I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Q: Fair enough but you must have quite a catalogue to draw upon, too.
Hubbard: We do, it’s a great blessing after having been around as long as we have, it does give you a lot of stuff to chose from. As fans of music ourselves we know that people want to hear the things that they know, that’s why you’re there to see the artists so we try to get as much of the stuff that they would know from the radio in there, as well as some stuff that’s just fun to play.

Q: So how do you go about setting up a set list for a show like this one coming up?
Hubbard: I would call it a high-quality problem because we have got a great number of songs that we know people are really going to be upset if they don’t hear them (chuckle), so those you know you want to have in there, and then you can sort of mix some of the other stuff around that. And even so, it’s still hard, I mean, no matter who I go see invariably I go, “Oh, I wish they would have played this song!” and I know they can’t get to everything.

Q: Well, having you mention the extent of your catalogue, I’m curious: how long have you been together as a group?
Hubbard: We’ve been together about 39 years now, that’s a little while so it’s been an incredible adventure because when we started one of our great hopes was that we would get to do this for a long time. It’s a giant blessing that it actually worked out that way.

Q: Of the original members, who is still in the band?
Hubbard: Three of the five are, we had a guitar player change a little while ago, and then our bass player retired earlier this year. So three of the five have been together from the beginning, and our guitar player Shayne Hill has been with us for 17 years so he’s a lifer in terms of the music.

Q: So what was the pandemic like for you guys?
Hubbard: Ah, a lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime (laughter) as much as it was for other people. Once we got a month-and-a-half into it, I pretty much realized that I was not going to be going out on the road playing music (chuckle). So it was really like dialing back my whole routine. I’ve never had more than three weeks at home in all the time we’ve done this. It was just an adjustment, as it was for so many people. But we did a bunch of Facebook Live stuff, we did some unplugged versions of our songs that we put online and did some Q&A things just to keep some connection going there, which was actually a lot of fun.

Q: Yeah, better than nothing, that’s for sure.
Hubbard: Absolutely, and I watched a lot of other people’s live streams just to be able to get my quasi-live-music fix, which was also fun.

Q: Did you ever imagine, back when it all started, that you’d be still going strong in 2021?
Hubbard: You know, it was a hope and in some ways it was absolutely what we dream, in other ways it might have been too big to dream because it would have been hard to imagine what happened. Well, first of all, at that age it would have been hard to imagine 40 years past anything, basically. So when we started, if you were 30 you were already like, “God, I hope you’ve done everything you want to do, man, because you’re old!” And now I’ve got shoes that are 30 years old that I’m still wearing. So I know that if you were to ask any one of us, it was truly our dream to be able to do this, and to do this with this group of people that just work well together, and still have it be fun, well, that’s probably the best part!

Q: Is there anything, Hobie, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Hubbard: It sounds Hallmark Card-ish but I promise you, we cannot wait to be back. I would say (chuckle) that we’ve always been appreciative of the fact that we get to do this, but certainly having that mega-amount of time off has made us even more grateful of the fact that we still get to go play music, we’re ready to have fun and wear your comfortable shoes!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

filed under: