When an explosively talented band such as Blackhawk bursts onto the scene with enough musical ammunition to set the world on fire, they do. And BlackHawk did just less than four years ago — unleashing an electrifying three-part harmony with its luring grunge edge; along with unyielding songwriting talent and a scorching rock-belted instrumentation.
An identifiable sound, look and attitude suited this trio, comprised of Henry Paul (lead vocals/guitar), Dave Robbins (keyboards/harmony vocals) and Van Stephenson (guitar/harmony vocals), up for a ride they wouldn’t soon forget. More than three million-selling albums followed, in addition to a long list of country radio hits and award nominations. The Band went on to pick up the Star of Tomorrow trophy at 1995’s TNN Music City News Country Awards.
But with such an extraordinary accomplishment record already behind them, it’s difficult to imagine that BlackHawk’s latest mission is to forge on even further. With such hits as “Goodbye Says It All,” “I Sure Can Smell The Rain,” “I’m Not Strong Enough To Say No” and “Almost A Memory Now” tucked away in their parade of hits, they’re simply ready to put a little more spit-fire into the pace of the parade — a move that Paul describes as “risky.” That risk-factor begins with the release of the group’s third Arista Records disc, Love & Gravity.
“It’s sort of like that old saying – ’No guts, no glory,'” explains Paul. “There’s just a real risk-factor involved with this new album. I think that the second album (Strong Enough) was not nearly as risky as the first. I think that this record takes some real chances. But without taking those kinds of chances, I don’t think we’re going to really make the kind of progress in our careers that we hope to make.”
Love & Gravity not only marks perhaps the trio’s edgiest and most contemporary-flavored work, but also coincides with more songwriting efforts solely from the band itself.
“With each album, you want to move forward,” Robbins earlier commented. “We’ve already established ourselves as ’Hey, these guys have intelligent songs. There’s an edge to their music.’ We like that. I think that’s what people have grown to expect from us. And to please ourselves, we have to keep that creativity unleashed. We can’t keep it locked up.”
Such strong and surging creativity can, however, stretch too far across the borders for some country acts. While such ace performers who’ve undoubtedly made significant marks in the country arena as Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang or even country’s newest band, Big House, country radio is often reluctant to spin what they feel is “not country enough.” Although BlackHawk plans to keep grips on both reins, they still realize that with any type of dramatic change in direction, the risk is still involved.
“We could stand to lose the moniker country band,” ponders Paul. “We could stand to lose our basic support at radio. We could also stand to lose our position in the industry with regard to our effort in the three and a half years at getting where we’ve got. I think those risks are tempered with some real knowledge of what we are and what we have to be to be in the game. I don’t think we’re unrealistic though.”
Moving foward and even closer to the edge for this critically praised act is, to say the least, highly expected. When they made their debut in early 1994, the “buzz” within the business was “big, big, big” from the word go. They’ve since then proven to be as dynamic live on stage as they are in the recording studio — having open shows for such acts as Tim McGraw and Wynonna.
With no over-dramatic hype, commercialism and star-studded blitz, BlackHawk has alo managed to lasso a stream of success and progression that has been interestingly gradual. Success without the skyrockets is just fine for this down-to-earth-attitude band.
“I think we’re looking at writing some songs that have some real sociological value,” he continues. “We’re still writing songs that ’represent hits.’ We know without our role at radio, we don’t stand much of a chance at being heard. I think in the human arena, we looked to up the annie, with regard to willingness and eagerness to try and make a difference. Garth Brooks has taken that somewhere to that position, except has maybe taken it a little too far. I would like to try to kinda walk that line–have some radio records and have have some topographical material that kinda relates to maybe the metaphysical aspects of our lives. And then move foward. We would just hope to make a difference in the process of making some commercially successful records.
“I love the fact that the band is taking a steady climb,” Paul admits. “I wouldn’t trade our career for that of Billy Ray Cyrus’ for all the money in the world. And I single him out because he represents that type of skyrocket success. Although I have to say in his defense that his new single that’s out there right now is just outstanding. So instead of the big rocket to the sky, we’re taking more of the substantial and time-consuming approach. I think that’s going to insure us a career for many many years.”
What’s also insuring BlackHawk’s continual success is the continued learning process in which they engage with each other.
“We’ve just really learned from one another,” Paul states. “I think my partners have learned a lot about the reality of being in a popular group. Having been in a couple, I think it can really throw you an incredible curve that can work to your disadvantage, unless you have somebody there that’s completely focused and centered and knowledgeable about the things that are going on. I feel like I’ve been able to help Dave and Van in certain areas in that way. Then I feel like they’ve taught me a lot about songwriting and making records and just the quality that goes into getting this show on tape.
“But I think we all have a certain amount of insight into the reality of what we’re involved in, with regard to our career,” he continues. “We just help each other a lot in different areas.”
The buddy system has obviously paid off for BlackHawk. The trio already has another hit on their hands. Love & Gravity’s freshman single, “Hole In My Heart,” took an immediate BlackHawk flight toward the top of the radio playlists and continues such a flight. The band is also honored as this month’s CMT Showcase Artist.
In keeping with the summertime poolside theme of their current “Hole In My Heart” video, the CMT Showcase special features a series of interviews taped by the backyard swimming pool of group member Stephenson. CMT is profiling each member via 30-minute weekly video programs. Episodes began airing on CMT in early August and will continue throughout the month.
The members of BlackHawk can easily boast a string of accomplishments throughout their careers, including earlier individual projects and stints before teaming together as one of country’s all-time leading bands. But one feat above all others stands out most in their minds.
“I think without a doubt, our first record going double-platinum is the most exciting thing that’s happened in our individual and collective careers ever,” Paul says with pride. “That is such a very unusual and rare opportunity.
“But what I find most humorous about who we are and what has happened is our emotional inability to sometimes handle the awards ceremonies. I don’t know, we’ve been at this for so long and it represents such a life’s work and then when we get put into a situation to where we have to thank people, it really means more to us than it probably does to others. I swear, the three of us just kinda go down in flames. That, to me, I find ironic because we’re so capable of making so much sense out of so much of what we do. But then when we get to the point to where somebody is ready to maybe give us a pat on the back, it’s hard for us to take it.”
BlackHawk can rest assured that they’re taking in a lot of support from a huge fan following that welcomed them in the very beginning. And with more gradual time and yes, even a little risky business, they’ll continue to soar even higher.
“We’re just working toward being ready for whatever it is that we get or whatever comes along,” Paul concludes. “I think that all the time that it took to get where we are now is time that had to be spent. And now I think there’s some growth left to make, so we’re making some significant strides as both people and professionals. I just feel like things are happening for a reason.”