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Sammy Johns has written a number of hit songs for other artists, but the one he will always be remembered for is the one he recorded himself. "Chevy Van," a song about a loose-loving man who picks up a woman while he's on the road, struck a loud chord with listeners in the sexually liberated '70s when Johns released it mid-decade. His mellow and easy style made love that was free and easy seem natural when he sang, "We made love in my Chevy van, and that's all right with me." The singer/songwriter sold more than three million copies in 1975, and the single flew to the top of the charts. The following year, van sales soared.
Johns didn't start out to write songs for other artists, but that's where he ended up. After his eponymous debut album from General Recording Corporation, which included "Chevy Van," the singer inked a deal in 1976 with Warner-Curb, which resulted in Johns working on the soundtrack to The Van, the first movie to feature Danny DeVito. The 1982 New World Records single "Falling for You" caught the eye of Elektra, and the company took Johns aboard and issued "Love Me off the Road" and "Common Man." When country artist John Conlee covered "Common Man," the single went gold and topped the charts. Conlee made the song his theme, and Johns was on his way writing songs for others.
Among those who have recorded Johns' songs are Waylon Jennings, Sammy Kershaw, and Conway Twitty. In 1985, Jennings serenaded the Statue of Liberty with Johns' "America" on a nationally broadcast event to mark the statue's restoration. The performance helped take the single gold and "America" was nominated for song of the year in country music circles. Johns' "Desperado Love" brought Twitty his final gold record. Kershaw covered the song that started it all for Johns, "Chevy Van," on his Politics Religion, and Her album in 1996.
Like a lot of musicians, Johns started young. When he was nine, his dad presented him with a guitar. By the time he was a teenager in his hometown of Charlotte, NC, he had established his own band, the Devilles. The group performed in local clubs and cut a few records on Dixie. Shifting to Atlanta, he began to make a name for himself and snagged a record deal in 1973. General Recording Corporation put out Johns' first solo record, "Early Morning Love," the following year.