When BlackHawk member Van Stephenson died of cancer in 2001, bandmates Henry Paul and Dave Robbins promised to keep the band going after Stephenson’s passing. And they kept their word – even managing to incorporate Stephenson on the new album, “Blue Highway,” released more than two decades after his death.
“It was a way to bring our friend Van back into the band,” explained Paul. Stephenson left the band a couple of years before he died, and Paul admitted it made the group’s career path harder. “We had to deal with the stigma of Van’s health issues as well as his medical predicament. There were a lot of different levels of pain.”
Paul remembers BlackHawk was in the studio recording and that Stephenson was trying his best to show up and sing his parts, even when he wasn’t physically able. Technology has progressed since then, and Paul was able to go back and renovate the original recordings, add a band and make full productions out of the songs which comprise “Blue Highway.” The trio wrote each of the 12 songs on the album’s tracklist.
“That was my way of turning back the hands of time,” Paul said. “If you’re an optimist like me, you don’t see the collateral damage of losing a major creative person in your trio.”
Paul and Robbins thought they could get Stephenson’s parts covered, and the act would be complete from a musical standpoint. They were wrong.
“He was a very integral part of our creative core,” Paul says. “Going back and listening to his voice and the magical combination of he and I and Dave singing, the introspective character of our songs was emotional.”
Hearing the songs gave Paul clarity on the roles that each person played in BlackHawk and how important they were.
“Hearing his voice in those songs, you got to relive that moment, which was us at the threshold of a new career,” Paul said. “The excitement that we felt about the songs we were writing and the way we sounded when we sang was very touching.”
In 2006, BlackHawk established the Van Stephenson Cancer Research Fund. The non-profit has generated more than $400,000 for the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. To donate, visit blackhawklive.com/vans-charity.
“Looking back on BlackHawk’s beginnings, I’m always reminded of the innocence and personal character of our songwriting, and both the fragile beauty and strength of our voices,” Paul said. “For Van and Dave and I, it was magic watching this exciting chapter in our life’s musical journey unfold. This album, once again, brings the three of us together and sheds light on the dawn of our creation in those early days.”
Paul and Robbins are dedicating the release to the memory of their departed bandmate.
“This collection of songs brings home the fact that it wasn’t by chance that Van and Henry and I got to have this dance with you,” added Robbins.
Blue Highway Track Listing:
1. Don’t Put Yourself Down
2. Baby The Rain Must Fall
3. Southern Wind
4. I’m Gonna Find a Way
5. Where The Wild Roses Grow
6. Not By Chance
7. Heavy Hand
8. Heart With a View
9. Blue Highway
10. Breathe The Night
11. One Good Reason
12. Wide Open Spaces