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.
Guitar pick from: Wildhorse Saloon, April 30, 1999
FULL NAME: Van Wesley Stephenson
BIRTH: November 4, 1953
DIED: April 8, 2001
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hamilton, OH
FATHER: Thomas D. Stephenson
MOTHER: Thelma Stephenson
WIFE: Karen Stephenson
Karen & Van
ANNIVERSARY: October 11, 1975
Katherine Dodson (11-23-79) (married to Josh Dodson)
Julie Stephenson (10-12-80)
Wesley Stephenson (2-21-82)
Karen, Van, and Wes
CURRENT HOME: Brentwood, TN
FIRST MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Dance Party at a swim club
COUNTRY INFLUANCES: Vince Gill
OTHER INFLUANCES: Don Henley