In April of 2001, the country music world was saddened by the passing of BlackHawk member Van Stephenson (pictured left), who lost his battle with skin cancer. Van's dying wish was for fellow BlackHawk members Henry Paul and Dave Robbins to continue making music together in his absence and do their part to help find a cure for cancer. Soon after his death, the Van Stephenson Memorial Cancer Research Fund was formed, and each year the band performs a special concert to raise money for the foundation.

Today (November 4) would have been Van's 57th birthday. The Boot sat down with his buddy and bandmate, Dave Robbins -- co-founder of Blackhawk, to discuss Restless Heart's 1988 No. 1 single, 'The Bluest Eyes in Texas,' which Van and Dave co-wrote with songwriter Tim DuBois.

In recent years, Dave has pursued a solo career and has been writing songs with many of Nashville's new, up and coming artists. In 2009, Dave released his debut solo-album, 'Soul Mining,' which is available through CD Baby. Look for Dave on the road with BlackHawk throughout the remainder of the year.

Tim, Van and I were old songwriting buddies from [publishing company] House of Golden Music, which is where we all started in Nashville. I was 21 when I signed there and their youngest writer. Van, Tim and I had written the song 'Restless Heart,' which Restless Heart named their band after, and a song called ''Til I Loved You.' Both of those songs were on Restless Heart's first album. A couple of albums later when they were getting ready to work on a new record, Van, Tim and I got together again to write for it. We wrote 'Big Dreams in a Small Town,' which ended up being the name of the album.

We were writing one day, and struggling through it. We knew it wasn't really going anywhere. We were about ready to give up for the day, when Van started telling us about an old girlfriend from high school, who he had bumped into recently. Van grew up in Nashville, and they had been dating when her family moved to Texas. He told us it had broke his heart. He hadn't seen her in 10 or 12 years, but she was back in Nashville, was happy, had started a family, and all that. He said, "As we were sitting there talking, I'm looking at her thinking 'Gosh, I had forgotten how blue her eyes were.'" Van then says, "I've got this idea for a song, 'The Bluest Eyes in Texas,' because that's what I was thinking about while I was looking at her." He knew when she got to Texas, [the people there] had to have been thinking she had the bluest eyes in Texas! [laughs]

We ended up writing the song with the title being about this girl. What we tried to do with the rest of the song was paint a picture that could be for anybody listening. She was the inspiration behind it, obviously, but we tried to write it in a way that everybody could relate to it.

After we demoed the song, Van took the it home and let his wife hear it. She listened, then exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! That's so beautiful, but you obviously didn't write it about me because I have brown hair and brown eyes." After Van admitted he hadn't written it about her, she said, "Well, you know what? That's OK, as long as the checks come to my mailbox." [laughs]

I remember sweating a little bit about the song when it came out and went to radio. When it got on the charts, I looked and the two songs above it had debuted that same week, one of them being George Strait's 'Baby Blue.' Of course, it was a song about eyes, too. I thought, 'Awesome. We've got a Restless Heart song that everyone is saying is going to be great, and now there's George Strait.' I thought our song was just going to die, but it worked its way up to No. 1, thank God!

That song, consequently for me, has been one of the biggest songs I have every been a part of. When I first started in BlackHawk, we all went out visiting radio stations. I can't tell you how many radio station program directors, music directors, on-air personalities -- everybody -- would look at our bio and go, "You guys wrote 'The Bluest Eyes in Texas'? That song got me into radio, specifically country radio. I was in pop radio and was on the fence. When I heard that, I thought if that's what country music is, then I'm in." A lot of fans and friends in Nashville tell me that they moved here because of that song, or that it made them decide to write songs. It's been really cool because you don't realize how much a song is going to affect people's lives. It's always nice when you hear stories like, "It changed my life." I have songs that do that for me, too.

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