"Chevy Van" was one of the great one-hit wonders of the 1970s. The lyrics, admittedly, were about as sexist as they come: like the "gas, grass, or ass, nobody rides free" bumper stickers, the guy picks up a hitch-hiker, has sex with her, then drops her "in a town that was so small you could throw a rock from end to end." But dang, it had such a catchy melody that even the bra-burning feminists couldn't help but sing along with the chorus (not unlike the rock hit "867-5309 [Jenny]," with its lyrics that indicate a guy is actually dumb enough to believe a "for a good time call" message he saw on a bathroom wall). And Chevrolet no doubt loved the tune: it probably sold more vehicles than the best salesman.
The man behind that song, Sammy Johns, has died.
Johns was a native of North Carolina. His one hit was a top five pop hit in 1975, and a remake cracked the Billboard country charts in 1988. That was far from his only success, however. His first venture onto the country charts came in 1981 with a song called "Common Man," with its chorus that hinted that the he had a "common van" (the old Chevy van?) and "my dog ain't got a pedigree." Two years later John Conlee covered the song and took it to #1. Waylon Jennings had a top ten hit in 1984 with another Johns composition, "America," in addition to covering "Chevy Van" on his 1987 album Hangin' Tough. Conway Twitty also scored a #1 hit with a Sammy Johns composition, "Desperado Love," in 1986.
In an interview with Classic Bands Online's Gary James, Johns freely admitted that the story in "Chevy Van" was totally fabricated. "It never happened," he admitted. "I thought it might be a neat idea to sing it."
Sammy Johns was 66.