“When we started,” says BlackHawk co-founder & lead vocalist Henry Paul, “our individual careers as writers and performers gave us somewhat of a more creative sensibility. We were three guys whose goal was to approach country with smart songs and unique harmonies for people who may not automatically like country.” Paul had previously co-founded Southern Rock legends The Outlaws, as well as leading the popular ‘80s rockers The Henry Paul Band. Van Stephenson had mainstream pop success as an ‘80s singer-songwriter-guitarist (“Modern Day Delilah”). And Dave Robbins had written hits for Eric Clapton and Kenny Rogers while partnering with Stephenson to write a series of classic #1 hits for Restless Heart, including “The Bluest Eyes In Texas” and “Big Dreams In A Small Town”.
“Even though the three of us had a love and appreciation for traditional country music,” says Dave, “we knew we weren’t going to be that. Henry was coming from Southern Rock, Van & I were in Nashville, but were writing country songs with pop sensibilities. When it came to our vocals, we wanted the three of us to be up front in the choruses like Crosby, Stills & Nash or The Eagles. What set us apart from the very beginning musically was being true to who we were individually.”
BlackHawk’s 1993 self-titled Arista debut album launched with the smash single “Goodbye Says It All”, followed by the Top 5 hits "Every Once in a While", "I Sure Can Smell the Rain", "Down in Flames" and "That's Just About Right". The album soon certified Double-Platinum, and the band received an ACM nomination as Best New Vocal Group Of The Year. BlackHawk followed up with the hit albums Strong Enough, Love & Gravity and Sky’s The Limit, which collectively featured such hits as “I’m Not Strong Enough To Say No”, “Like There Ain’t No Yesterday”, “Big Guitar”, “Almost A Memory Now”, “There You Have It” and “Postmarked Birmingham”. It was an unprecedented run of hits for a band that never quite fit the standard country mold. “Getting a BlackHawk record on the radio was often a tough sell,” explains Henry, “for the same reason country radio rejected bands like The Mavericks, The Dixie Chicks and Alison Krauss. But we were committed to smart, strong songs whether they fit the format or not. And the fans responded.”
But at the height of the trio’s success in 1999, Van Stephenson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma. “Van’s contribution to the group was enormous,” Henry says. “He could be...