Thursday, May 8, 2014

Van Stephenson

Origin: Hamilton, Ohio settled in Nashville, Tennessee (USA)

Van Stephenson
Van Stephenson

Suspicious heart - 1986


- Van Wesley Stephenson (November 4, 1953 – April 8, 2001) was an American singer-songwriter. He scored two US Billboard Hot 100 hits in the 1980s as a solo artist, and later became tenor vocalist in the country music band BlackHawk in the 1990s. In addition, Van co-wrote several singles for other artists, such as Restless Heart. Stephenson died of melanoma in 2001.

Stephenson was born in Hamilton, Ohio but moved to Nashville, Tennessee when he was ten years old, and played in garage bands as a teenager. He graduated from seminary school and wrote songs on the side in the 1970s; his first chart hit as a songwriter was for Crystal Gayle, who cracked the US country Top Ten with his "Your Kisses Will" in 1979. Stephenson went on to write hits for Kenny Rogers, Dan Seals, Janie Fricke, and John Anderson. Partnering with Dave Robbins, Stephenson wrote a string of hits for Restless Heart, and would continue to work with Robbins later in his career.

Stephenson landed a recording contract of his own with Handshake Records, through which he released his first solo album, China Girl in 1981. He later signed with MCA, and his second album, Righteous Anger was released in 1984. He scored big on the Billboard charts with "Modern Day Delilah" peaking at No. 22, and a second hit, "What the Big Girls Do" peaked at No. 45. Righteous Anger charted at No. 54 on the Billboard 200, but his follow-up 1986 disc, Suspicious Heart, did not chart, nor did its lead single, "We're Doing Alright." It also included two songs featured on movie soundtracks: "Make It Glamorous" from the 1984 film The Wild Life and "No Secrets" from the 1985 film Secret Admirer. Stephenson returned to songwriting duties until the early 1990s, when he became one-third of BlackHawk, a successful country group, through the end of the decade. In February 1999, Stephenson was diagnosed with melanoma and underwent surgery. He left the group in February 2000 to continue battling the cancer, and he died on the morning of April 8, 2001 as a result of the disease. -


- Singer/songwriter Van Stephenson managed to balance a career as both a sought-after songwriter and member of prominent country trio Blackhawk during a career that spanned more than two decades. He also managed to release two rock albums and scored a Top 30 hit on the pop charts in 1984 with "Modern Day Delilah." Born in Hamilton, OH, on November 4, 1953, Stephenson moved to Nashville at the age of ten, spending his teen years inspired by the Beatles and playing in garage bands. Although he went to (and graduated from) seminary school, he continued to pursue his musical ventures, honing his skills as a songwriter and working as a staff writer. In 1979, Crystal Gayle took Stephenson's "Your Kisses Will" into the Top Ten on the country charts, setting the stage for 20 years of chart hits. His writing credits in the '80s alone would include Top Ten songs for Kenny Rogers, Dan Seals, Janie Fricke, and John Anderson. There would also be a long, fruitful partnership with Dave Robbins, with the two of them collaborating on several hits for Restless Heart including "'Til I Loved You," "Big Dreams in a Small Town," the number one "Bluest Eyes in Texas," and an album track from which the band took its name. Concurrent with his songwriting success, Stephenson signed an artist deal when producer Richard Landis presented his demos to MCA Records.

Righteous Anger, a more rock/pop-oriented venture produced by Landis and featuring members of Restless Heart, was released in 1984. Spurred by heavy airplay for "Modern Day Delilah," the album managed solid sales and nearly spawned a second Top 40 single with "What the Big Girls Do." A second solo release, 1986's Suspicious Heart, would fail to garner as much attention as its predecessor (although "We're Doing Alright" received some AOR play). In the early '90s, Stephenson became one-third of the trio Blackhawk, along with Robbins and Henry Paul. Their first single, "Goodbye Says It All," topped the country charts and their 1993 self-titled debut album went platinum, reeling off another three Top Ten country hits. Blackhawk would issue three more albums during the decade, becoming a staple on country radio and its charts, as well as a strong live draw. Stephenson would be diagnosed with skin cancer and retire from the band in early 2000 to devote more time to his family. On April 8, 2001, after battling the disease for several years, Van Stephenson passed away, leaving behind an impressive legacy and legions of fans. -


- Van was born in Hamilton, OH where he lived till the age of 10 when his family moved to Nashville, TN. Being one of seven children, he often enjoyed playing in garage bands with his other brothers as well as with some neighbor kids. Then when Van was 17 he met Kenny O'Dell who was already a veteran songwriter at the time. He taught Van how to really write a song.

After high school, he went to college to become a minister. However, after graduating from seminary, he decided to go back to what he really loved to do; songwriting. He soon landed a job as a songwriter for the House Of Gold publishing company. After a few years of hard work, he finally got his big break when Crystal Gayle recorded his song "Your Kisses Will". After that, it was smooth sailing. 1981 turned out to be a big year for Van. That is when he first met fellow songwriter Dave Robbins. The two would go on to write hit after hit for many artists like Restless Heart among others. That was also the same year Kenny O'Dell helped Van once again. This time he produced Van's debut album "China Girl" on a relatively small record label Handshake Records. Nothing major ever came form that album for Van, but it enabled him to get his feet wet for the first time singing professionally. Then in 1983, Richard Landis helped to get Van signed onto MCA where Richard produced Van's first major rock album "Righteous Anger". It was on this album that Van was most successful during his solo career. His debut single "Modern Day Delilah" managed to make it up to #21 on the Billboard charts and #7 on Radio & Records. Then in 1986, Van released his follow up album, "Suspicious Heart" which is excellent vocally and lyrically, however the album ended up not being of any real success in the long run. After this rather destructive time of his life, he moved back to Nashville where he continued to do what he was best at; songwriting.

Then around 1992, Tim DuBois, president of Arista Nashville, talked to Van and Dave about starting their own band. They had the songwriting down, and the talent to go with it. But then Tim brought up the idea of a country music trio and introduced Dave and Van to Henry Paul. The three of them got together, began writing songs, and thus BlackHawk was born. The group first began a small tour testing out their new material under the name "FireHawk". But before the release of their debut album, Van was driving one day, saw the name "BlackHawk Printing" on the side of a truck. Van and the others threw the name around, they all loved it and soon they became known as BlackHawk.

Then in early 1999, Van had some tests done and found out that he had developed Melanoma (skin cancer). He proceeded to undergo treatment at Vanderbilt Cancer Institute, where he underwent an experimental treatment. Unfortunately this meant that BlackHawk had to continue touring without him for a few months, but after treatment, Van made recovery and went back on tour with the guys around June. But then again in a few months later Van underwent surgury again and has been off the road ever since.

It was up in the air for nearly half a year, but on February 4th 2000 Arista made an official press release that Van has retired from the group, effective immediatly. You can read the press realease here.

After a long battle with cancer, Van passed away on April 8th, 2001. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him and those who only knew the music he made. The good times, great music, and memories will last a lifetime. Our prayers go out to his family and friends. -


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