In Appreciation Of Sammy Johns [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]
The 1970s were the years of the singer/songwriter. Sammy Johns could really tell a story in his music, especially through his 1975 hit single “Chevy Van.” Sadly, Sammy passed away in North Carolina on January 4th (one week ago).
Sammy Reginald Johns was born in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 7th, 1946. His father gave Sammy a guitar when he was nine. By his teens, Johns had his own band, “The Devilles,” which played the Charlotte-area clubs, and recorded songs on a local label.
After moving to Atlanta in 1973, Sammy Johns signed a record contract with General Recording Corporation. His first song, “Early Morning Love” (#68/1974) was released.
Although he wrote songs for other artists, Sammy is best known for his song that he recorded: “Chevy Van.”
Three million copies of “Chevy Van” flew out of record stores, the hit single rising to #5 on the Hot 100 in 1975. It tells the story of a guy driving his Chevy van through a small town. He picks up a girl hitch-hiker, who seduces him, “moonlight dancing off her hair.”
As critic Paul Grein writes in the liner notes for Rhino Records ’70s series “Have A Nice Day” Volume 14: “We know his intentions were innocent because he specifically told her, “Lets get some sleep and dream of rock ‘n’ roll,” a line that must have seemed ridiculous even to the most blissed-out hippie spreading good vibes…”
Give “Chevy Van” a close listen. Sammy weaves a story through his words and music. You will find yourself seeing the story in your mind’s eye, as it unfolds. Its that descriptive, its that good, in my opinion. It is also pure 1970s pop, “and that’s alright with me.”
I remember hearing “Chevy Van” on the radio as a kid…but it really came to my attention in the early 1990s, as I worked at the first all-70s station (just across the river in Bucks County P.A.). Its a great “summer record” in tone, and plays well here at New Jersey 101.5 on “theme” weekends, such as our “Summer Songs Weekend” or “Class Reunion Weekend.” Its a fave for the Class of 1975!
Additionally, “Chevy Van” inspired the now-forgotten teen comedy movie “The Van” in 1977. Sammy wrote the soundtrack, and “Chevy Van” was prominently featured! “Chevy Van” also plays in the 2004 “Starsky And Hutch” movie.
As a side note, Sammy Johns continued to write after “Chevy Van”…many of his songs since the early 1980s became hits for country singers. In 1996, Sammy Kershaw sang “Chevy Van” on his album “Politics, Religion and Her.” And, Johns released a comeback album, “Honky-Tonk Moon” in 2000.
Sammy Johns…thanks for the music! And, I hope that she’s waiting for you in that big “Chevy Van” in the sky…