One of the first things Henry Paul wants to know about his upcoming trip to Deadwood: "Is it freezing?"
Even though the answer was yes — Deadwood's high temperature was a high of 5 degrees the day of the interview — it makes little difference. Cold or no, BlackHawk is coming.
The country music band will perform at 8 p.m. March 3 at the Deadwood Mountain Grand. Tickets are $20 to $40, depending on seats, and are available at the venue's box office at 877-907-GRAND or at ticketmaster.com.
Paul, lead vocalist for BlackHawk, co-founded the group in 1992 with Dave Robbins and Van Stephenson. Their first album, "BlackHawk," began with the hit single "Goodbye Says It All." That led a series of chart-toppers for the band in the '90s, including "Every Once in a While," "I Sure Can Smell the Rain," and "That's Just About Right."
Known for their soaring harmonies and distinctive sound, BlackHawk dominated country radio for the better part of a decade. But Paul said their songs were never "country lifestyle" focused, instead veering more toward relationships or the metaphysical. And their musical personalities blended the backgrounds of the three founding members, which included southern rock, pop and country.
They weren't trying to be different. They just were.
"We really just had an idea of what we loved, and all those parts go into making what it is we sound like. I think it’s a concerted effort and also a priority for us to remain true to who we were and who we are," he said. "We get played on country radio, and we’re proud and real comfortable at what that represents."
In 2001, Stephenson died from cancer. Before he died, he asked Robbins and Paul to continue playing, and to help raise awareness for cancer research and treatment.
They've done both in the nearly 17 years since, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for The Van Stephenson Memorial Cancer Fund at Nashville's Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, while continuing to write and perform their music.
Paul believes the band would have endured without Stephenson's request, but they always keep him in the back of their mind while judging their work. And nearly 25 years since that first album, Paul said little has changed — BlackHawk is still touring, writing music and making albums.
"I feel like a perennial. Every year, it's Groundhog Day," he said of touring. "We shoot right back up and do it again. And you lose track of time."
With a self-described aptitude for work, Paul said he's still having a good time. He credits finding the right "cast of characters" to play with as key to the band's longevity.
"I just make sure that it’s fun, otherwise I wouldn’t go out there and torture myself for something as unimportant these days as having a chart-topping song on country radio," he said.
That's not to say he regrets those chart-toppers. He's proud of BlackHawk's body of work.
"I think those songs are towering sort of testimonials to who we are as artists," he said.
Though they haven't maintained the mainstream success that marked their '90s run, Paul said there have always been loyal BlackHawk fans. In the last couple of years, he said that following has grown noticeably, though he can't pinpoint why.
"The band always had a very strong cult following, but for some reason one day we woke up and everybody started giving a dang," he said.
But Paul seems mostly uninterested in commercial success.
During what he described as BlackHawk's "glory days," they were part of the "music business system," he said, not allowed complete control over their music. Labels would sometimes try to dictate how they dressed or acted; for Paul, it was mostly just noise.
"We just did what we did," he said. "We’re not trying to fit in, we just want our own space to be in."
Now, however, they have complete creative control over their work. In 2014, they released "Brothers of the Southland," their first studio album in more than a decade.
And they'll continue to play, and tour, and create. They have a Christmas album in the works for this year, as well as a live album. They hope to release a new studio album in 2019.
"I have every reason to believe we’ll continue to write and record indefinitely with the band," he said. "We feel like we have an unlimited future ahead of us."