MelodicRock Classics is proud and honoured to partner with the family of the late, great VAN STEPHENSON, plus his many co-writers and musical partners, to pay tribute to the legacy of the legendary singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist in a career spanning box set of unreleased songs from his vast songwriting archives.
MRC Owner and A&R director Andrew McNeice has been given the responsibility of archiving Van’s songwriting demos from the 70s, right up until the last songs he wrote.
McNeice became friends with Van back in 1998 when he approached Van with the idea of looking into his archives to find material to create a compilation release of his favourite unreleased songs. Discussions and a friendship continued until Van was no longer well enough to continue the project and following his untimely passing, McNeice remained in contact with his wife Karen and more recently his daughter Julie.
When approached about the idea for a tribute to Van’s work, the family jumped at the idea, and the process of cataloguing his songs began. From publisher Warner Chappell came 35 CDs of material they had compiled; plus additional songs have recently been transferred from Van’s DAT collection and shortly restoration and digitization will begin on a wall of original reel to reel tapes stored in a family member’s shed.
Andrew McNeice comments: “It is an honour to be able to work on this project, which I consider a career highlight. Van was so welcoming to me – a guy he’d never heard of from Australia, asking about his old rock songs. I’d been a fan since 1984 and couldn’t have found a more humble and obliging individual. So humble, he later told me he had to explain to his assistant just what material I had been asking after, as he had never thought to discuss anything before his Blackhawk career.
I have already spent several months going through his songs and still there’s more to go. And we haven’t even added in the reel to reel tracks yet. This is a real labour of love and I can’t wait to present a fitting tribute to one of the greatest singer/songwriters ever. This will be one big box set.
The big question now is how to make it all fit in – the pop, the rock, the country, the mid-western. He was such a versatile writer.”
One track has been released from the project. Van’s solo demo of the last song he wrote, ‘Ships Of Heaven’. Check it out at: https://youtu.be/B2r4_nWCfns
About the Van Stephenson Archives Project:
Throughout his professional life, Van never stopped writing and recording, leaving behind one of the most astounding libraries of songs, which runs the gamut of styles.
From his origins in 70s singer/songwriter pop, to full blown anthemic 80s AOR/melodic rock and midwestern pop, through to an evolving acoustic driven singer/songwriter style in the early 90s, to his dedicated country sound of the 90s.
Across all eras, Van’s many influences and styles crossed over with one and another and can be heard on the various tracks, as fans will all get to hear.
Working closely with Van’s family, a collection of over 500 songs has been amassed from reel to reel, CD and DAT sources.
Most of Van’s writing partners have already been contacted and we are proud to announce the co-operation of several of them today: Dave Robbins, Sam Lorber, Jan Buckingham, Henry Paul, Dann Huff and Dave Innis.
Andrew McNeice: “It is now my absolute pleasure to go through all tracks from all eras, curating the songs into various categories, to present them to fans in a massive box set of material to pay tribute to Van the writer and the artist. There is something here for fans of all eras of Van’s life. Classic rock, soaring AOR, heartfelt country and sweet acoustic driven vocal harmonies. From full band tracks to a number of simple singer/songwriter demos; with Van’s voice accompanied by just an acoustic guitar or a piano. The challenge is to present it all in the best way possible.”
The plan also includes the intention to remaster Van’s three officially released solo albums from the 80s with bonus demos and unreleased material from those sessions in Deluxe Edition releases, with Van’s debut ‘China Girl’ to be first in line. The two MCA albums require several additional steps to acquire licensing permission, so will come later.
Fans of digital and streaming services will be able to access these songs from their favourite platforms.
Work on this project has been ongoing for the past 12 months and continues, with no set time frame for release just yet. It is hoped that the box set will be available for pre-order later this year.
A lot to be excited about for all fans of Van Stephenson.
About Van Stephenson:
Van Stephenson is an American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, born in Ohio, but a resident of Nashville since the age of 10 until his untimely passing in 2001.
Van has the truly unique distinction of being a musical hero for two different fan bases from two different eras. Yet even then, there is so much more to his musical pedigree.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, Van made his mark as a songwriter, which continued through the 90s. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Eric Clapton, Tim McGraw, Poco, Reba McIntyre, Restless Heart, Austin Roberts, Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Juice Newton, Kenny Rogers and more.
It was in the late 70s that Van originally paired up with Dave Robbins, becoming writing partners and dear friends until Van’s passing, a friendship he always felt grateful for.
Stephenson landed a recording contract of his own with Handshake Records, through which he released his first solo album, China Girl, in 1981.
In the mid-1980s Van became an instant hero to fans of radio friendly melodic rock with the AOR masterpieces ‘Righteous Anger’ & ‘Suspicious Heart’. These two albums (recorded for MCA in 1984 and 1986) are still referred to as genre classics. Joining him on those records and in his live band were session legends Dann Huff (guitar), Alan Pasqua (keyboards) and Mike Baird (drums).
Throughout the rest of the 80s, Van continued writing and adding songs to his already substantial demo portfolio.
Huff and Pasqua would go on to form the band Giant, and in the opening years of the 1990s, the pair called upon Van’s songwriting expertise to co-write a series of songs that would appear on the band’s ‘Time To Burn’ and ‘Giant 3’ releases, as well as some as yet unreleased tracks.
The ‘Time To Burn’ album would again earn high praise from fans and the accolade of genre classic.
In 1994 Van became a star all over again, this time returning to his roots as part of the country music scene, forming the chart-topping trio Blackhawk, alongside Henry Paul (lead vocals) and Van’s friend and co-writer Dave Robbins (keyboards). The band quickly became known for their rich harmonies and down to earth songwriting.
Some fans remained unaware of Van’s cross-genre talent, while others have followed him throughout his career.
Van considered himself fortunate to be able write and record with some remarkable writers over the years, penning multiple songs with the likes Jeff Silbar (Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings”), Tim Dubois (President of Arista Nashville), Jan Buckingham (Pam Tillis, Whitney Houston, George Jones, Melissa Manchester, Rick Springfield), Sam Lorber (Restless Heart, Pointer Sisters, Kenny Rogers) and Dave Innis (Restless Heart).