Van Stephenson; Singer in Country Trio BlackHawk

From a Times Staff Writer

Van Stephenson, songwriter and a founding vocalist and guitarist of the country music trio BlackHawk, has died of melanoma. He was 47.

Stephenson, who left the band early last year because of his illness, died Sunday in Nashville.

In 1984, Stephenson had a U.S. Top 40 hit solo record with his “Modern Day Delilah” and during the same period released two solo albums.

But he saw himself as more a songwriter than performer in the 1980s, teaming with Dave Robbins to pen Willie Nelson’s 1983 hit “All My Life” and successful songs for Restless Heart, Eric Clapton, Dan Seals and Poco.


In 1993, Stephenson and Robbins were persuaded to join former Outlaws band leader Henry Paul to form BlackHawk, adapting their name from the prewar American sports car the Stutz Blackhawk. Their debut album, “BlackHawk” in 1994, went double platinum and yielded four hit singles--"Goodbye Says It All,” “Every Once in a While,” “Sure Can Smell the Rain” and “Down in Flames.”

Other top-selling albums included “Strong Enough” in 1995 and “BlackHawk 3: Love and Gravity” in 1997. The trio also created a 1996 music video, “Almost a Memory Now.”

They toured extensively, including appearances in the mid-1990s at the Galaxy Concert Theater in Santa Ana and Incahoots in Fullerton, and were typically described by reviewers as “fun with serious attitude.”

A native of Hamilton, Ohio, Stephenson played with Southern bluegrass bands, then went to Bible college and became a minister before moving into country music writing.


BlackHawk attended the annual Country in the Rockies fund-raising event for cancer research since its inception in 1994, and this year’s event in early February was especially meaningful because of Stephenson’s illness.

“There’s a place you cross over . . . you realize the magnitude of [the cause] and you’re doing this because you have a passion for it,” Robbins said.

One of the groups benefiting from the event was the Frances Williams Preston Labs, where Stephenson received treatment.