Sons of the Desert
Sons of the Desert
The Texas-based country music band called Sons of the Desert scored a top-ten hit with their debut album, Whatever Comes First, in 1997. A group that has traveled extensively on the country music circuit, it relies on powerful harmony and music with a message to hold the fans, who are dedicated and loyal. Sons of the Desert took their name from the classic 1933 Laurel and Hardy movie of the same name about a nutty pair who sneak off to a fraternal convention without telling their wives. The group consists of Drew Womack, who is the lead singer and acoustic guitarist; his older brother Tim Womack, a vocalist who also plays guitar; Doug Virden, on the bass; Scott Saunders, who plays the piano and organ; and drummer Brian Westrum. Their debut album was recorded in Nashville and features soon-to-be classics from tested composers. The title tune reached number 37 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles and Tracks. The album release followed a six-month promotion campaign that featured voicemail messages from impersonators of Jay Leno and other celebrities as well as copies of the Laurel and Hardy film. With this lighthearted approach, the Epic label, for whom the group recorded, looked for—and got—extra attention for the new release.
Members include Scott Saunders, keyboards; Doug Virden, bass; Brian Westrum, drums; Drew Womack, vocals, acoustic guitar; Tim Womack, guitar, vocals.
Group formed, 1989; released debut album Whatever Comes First on Epic Records, 1997; released Change on MCA Nashville, 2000.
Awards: Country Music Association Award (with Lee Ann Womack), Single of the Year for “I Hope You Dance,” 2000; Academy of Country Music Awards (with Lee Ann Womack), Single of the Year, Song of the Year, Vocal Event of the Year for “I Hope You Dance,” 2001.
The original band began in 1989 with some young men at McClennon Community College in Waco, Texas. They were joined a year later by Drew Womack, from the small town of Brownwood, Texas, after the lead singer left. Womack had always been interested in music and songwriting. He wrote his first song, entitled “The Sunshine Song,” when he was in the second grade, and he was quite proud of it until his older brother told him it was a love song and he would get in trouble with their parents for writing it. So he hid the lyrics behind the washing machine.
The singing group changed again in 1993 with the addition of Saunders and Westrum, who were located in Dallas. The others moved to the Dallas area, and the larger group began performing together. Tim Womack became part of the group in 1994. It was when the band came together in Dallas that Drew Womack has said the group really began to forge their own sound and develop something unique. Their harmony has always been their strongest suit, while their music has changed a good deal from the outset. The Sons came from a tradition of two-step music and started off much more bluegrass-oriented than they are today. But for them, country music is a state of mind that evolves. Their songs speak of the real world, especially in ways that affect the heart. Although they want to stay true to their origins, they want their music to reach out to all kinds of fans, especially those who enjoy good harmony.
Considered one of the most exciting new country groups in years, the Sons of the Desert offer country music of universal appeal with ballads such as “Colorado” and uptempo tunes such as “Hand of Fate.” An article at CountryStars.com described their appeal in this way: “Drew Womack invites the listener in. His is the kind of voice that’s instantly memorable he embodies sheer soul . Drew’s older brother Tim adds muscle, fire and grace; Virden’s bass provides the steadiest of foundations; keyboardist Scott Saunders may be the band’s secret weapon—his piano and organ embellishments elevate the songs to majesty[;] and Brian Westrum not only keeps the backbeat steady but lends percussive finesse—cymbal grace notes on the ballads, subtle propulsion on the rocking tunes, and he also adds seamless backing harmonies.”
A big break came for the five when, after getting some experience in the Dallas area, they headed for Nashville, Tennessee, just because they thought they were ready. On the third day of a two-week engagement at the Wildhorse, Drew Womack played some songs for a publisher who knew Epic Records was looking for a band. Epic gave them a record deal right then, which resulted in the group’s first album, 1997’s Whatever Comes First. Eight of the cuts on the album are written or cowritten by Drew Womack, such as the hit “Leaving October.” An Epic official, quoted in a 1997 Billboard article, said of their new find, “They are very fresh and you have somebody with tremendous talent like Drew. He has an incredibly expressive voice, and his song-writing skills are far beyond his years. That’s what is going to separate these guys from everybody else.”
The group initially felt uncomfortable making the transition from live performances to a studio setting. But they were pleased with the results, saying the album sounded just as they do when performing live. After extensive pre-release promotion, the album was released to positive reception, with a video airing on cable televison country music channels and the band earning spots on high-profile tours. The single “Whatever Comes First” made it to number ten on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart. In one of their very early touring experiences, the group traveled in a 1972 Dodge Apollo RV, which cost them $3,500. The vehicle had caught fire right after the original owner took it from the showroom, and it still sent out occasional sparks as the band drove from show to show.
Sons of the Desert left Epic Records in 1999 for MCA Records, which offered them a seven-album deal. This included a new look, a new sound, and a new album, Change, released in 2000. The sound change came with shifting the focus to the three vocalists up front. After initial success with the label, however, in 2001 they sued MCA for breach of contract, saying that the label had prevented them from recording a second album as stated in the contract.
As the Sons of the Desert have grown musically, they have gone on to make their mark with tightly crafted country and country-rock. They continue to perform and delight their audiences, sometimes performing as a combo of two or three members. Their songs tell a story of life that is not perfect, but they convey a message of hope for a better time. In whatever form the band plays or whatever the song, thousands of country-music fans have been captivated by their harmonies.
Whatever Comes First, Epic, 1997.
Change, MCA Nashville, 2000.
Billboard, April 26, 1997.
“Sons of the Desert,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 24, 2003).
“Sons of the Desert,” CountryStars.com, http://www.countrystars.com (June 29, 2003).
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