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Through more than three million-selling albums, ten consecutive country hits, years of breathtaking concerts, numerous award nominations, and even recognition as country's favorite new group of the year, BlackHawk has forged a national reputation for energetic live performances and recordings with powerful harmonies and rocking country instrumentation.
"I think country music is dying for a supergroup," said BlackHawk's Van Stephenson. "That has always been our dream: That BlackHawk would occupy that space, and transcend everything instead of running with the pack."
BlackHawk has already left the other contenders gasping for air. With the release of their fourth Arista album, appropriately titled "The Sky's The Limit," they created their most potent combination of powerful performances and memorable tunes to date. And as usual, the trio topped it all off with the most unique and expressive vocals in country music. Once you hear the combination of these three gifted singers, their sound is indelibly printed on your eardrums.
"When you listen to a BlackHawk record," said Van, "you hear three distinct voices, which is very different. We grew up listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash and never got over it!"
"The first time we sang three part harmony, we really felt like we had found something," adds Dave. "It was magical, like we were blood brothers."
Even before they found that combination, the members of BlackHawk had the hit-making touch. From 1971 to 1977, Henry Paul was a member of The Outlaws, and recorded four albums with that group. In 1980, he formed the Henry Paul Band, which cut four more albums, including the critically acclaimed "Grey Ghost." In 1987, he rejoined The Outlaws for one more album, "Soldiers of Fortune." Henry also had his songs recorded by John Anderson ("Bad Love Gone Good") and The Bellamy Brothers ("Tragedy").
Meanwhile, classically trained pianist Dave Robbins moved to Nashville in 1979 and soon met fellow songwriter Van Stephenson. Before long they were a veritable hit machine, authoring singles by Kenny Rogers ("All My Life"), Dan Seals ("Everybody's Dream Girl"), and especially Restless Heart, for whom they penned "Big Dreams in a Small Town." "Bluest Eyes in Texas," ''Til I Loved You," "Long Lost Friend" and "Let the Heartache Ride." Van also made his mark as a solo artist, recording three solo albums for MCA Records which yielded the hits "Modern Day Delilah" and "What The Big Girls Do."
"It was following a number of demo sessions and publisher meetings that the idea of forming a group began to take shape. A subsequent conversation with Arista/Nashville President Tim DuBois lead us to Henry Paul," recalled Van, "and, viola, BlackHawk was born!"
"It was one of those magic things," remembers Tim Dubois of the first time he heard BlackHawk's sound. "When you heard the voices, it just fit. I love harmony groups, and that's what turns me on as a producer. And when one like BlackHawk makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, it's a unique kind of sound."
The group's self-titled debut album was released in February 1994, and they hit pay dirt instantly. After their first single, "Goodbye Says It All," climbed to No. 11, the next four "Every Once in a While," "I Sure Can Smell the Rain," "Down in Flames" and "That's Just About Right'' all reached the Top 10.
BlackHawk's energetic stage show made them a top concert attraction as well. "The audience is the reason we're there," said Van. "We hope that what people get from a BlackHawk concert is the feeling that they were completely entertained they got great music and got to know us a little bit as people. Like they got their money's worth!"
With the release of "Strong Enough" in 1995 and "Love & Gravity" in 1997, BlackHawk scored with such unforgettable songs as "I'm Not Strong Enough to Say No," "Like There Ain't No Yesterday," "Postmarked Birmingham" and "Almost a Memory Now." Collectively, they have sold more than 3.5 million records, sealing their reputation as one of the most successful and progressive country bands.
"The three of us come from a very, very artistically minded, lyrically sensitive mind-set of the singer-songwriter," points out Henry Paul. "When you say recording 'artists,' I think BlackHawk takes the description seriously. There are other groups with three-part harmony, but BlackHawk's sound is unique because it comes from all three singers."
As proof, "The Sky's The Limit" contains lead vocals from all three members, including Dave Robbins' heartfelt ballad, "Always Have, Always Will" and Van Stephenson's stone country "Think Again."
On top of that, there are future BlackHawk classics such as the good-time first single, "There You Have It," the driving "Your Own Little Corner of My Heart" and the heart-wrenching "Nobody Knows What to Say." It all adds up to a new level of sophistication for the band, as well as a conscious return to a more acoustic-based sound.
Says Dave, "We evolved after our first record, which was very, very earthy, with a lot of fiddles, mandolins and acoustic guitars, nothing whiny or twangy. With the second and third albums we went with a little more electric approach. This record is earthier and that was intentional. It's almost like getting back to our roots; we're staying true to giving our fans some really great music. We don't want to ever feel like we've sold out. We just can't do that."
"I think about groups like Alabama and Restless Heart," continues Dave, "and they're the guys who brought listeners like me to country radio. Hopefully our contribution is that people are now saying, 'Hey, you guys are the reason we're listening to country!'"
Truth be told, there are millions of people who feel exactly that way. People who want their country music to break new ground and look to the future. As Henry Paul says, "No guts, no glory!"
And as always with BlackHawk, the sky's the limit!
The Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and American Music Awards have all nominated BlackHawk for top accolades, and the band won the 1995 fan-voted TNN/Music City News Country Awards Star of Tomorrow.
(Van Stephenson died of cancer on April 8, 2001.)
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