Gary James' Interview With
Sammy Johns

It was the hit song for the Summer of 1974. We're talking about Sammy Johns' "Chevy Van". "Chevy Van" was so popular it reached number two on the national charts and sold close to three million copies.

Sammy Johns talked to us about "Chevy Van".

Q - Sammy, how long did it take you to write "Chevy Van"?

A - Well, it was a strange thing. The first two versus and the chorus came within the first ten minutes, and the last verse for some reason took about two months. I never understood that. And it finally came together.

Q - How did you get the idea to write a song about a Chevy van?

A - Ford Econoline wouldn't have gone into the structure of the lyrics, but Chevy seemed like it was a popular word back then. And I always liked the Chevrolet car.

Q - If your record company, GRC Records, hadn't gotten into financial difficulties, would you have been able to follow up "Chevy Van" with another Top Ten hit?

A - I think so. If they could've stayed afloat, we would've come up with something. It was just one of those things where the company folded and you try to make the best of it from there.

Q - So, you must really get mad when people refer to you as a "one hit wonder?"

A - (laughs) Well, not really. I'm just thankful for that one. I've written some other things for some other artists and that's given me a lot of gratification. I wrote "Desperado Love" for Conway Twitty, "American" for Waylon Jennings and "Common Man" for John Conley. That's really what I wanted to be, a writer. I used to sing in bands, but I really wanted to be a writer. As a matter of fact, I never thought I'd get to do "Chevy Van" when I wrote it. When I recorded it and they wanted to put my version out, I was just really happy about it. But that's what I've been doing lately, just writing songs.

Q - Did anyone ever approach you and ask about using "Chevy Van" for a commercial?

A - Well, it was a strange thing. The record company I was with, it wasn't one of your major labels. Chevrolet did want to do a commercial, but some kind of problem cropped up with the record company wanting to get more heavily involved than General Motors wanted to and so it never happened.

Q - Has anyone ever done a cover version of "Chevy Van"?

A - Yeah. Waylon (Jennings) did a version of it. They were deliberating as to whether to release it, but for some reason it never happened. There was one group I used to see on Austin City Limits and I'm sorry, forgive me, I can't remember their names, they did a cover version of it.

Q - After GRC Records, you signed with Warner - Curb Records. What happened there?

A - We recorded a few songs and tried to pick up some pieces from GRC. For some reason, the Lord above just didn't choose to make it work then. I just look back and tried to get myself together and write some. I liked working with all those people. Mike Curb, he's great! He's done a lot.

Q - You said you had some hard times in your record company bio. What kind of hard times?

A - It seemed like when "Chevy Van" hit and it hit so big, I don't know if I was really ready to handle that right then. I come from North Carolina and I've been playing in nightclubs all my life. I needed to have my head on straighter than it was and I didn't. But thank God I'm still kicking.

Q - Did you save the money you made from "Chevy Van"?

A - (laughs) Not too much of it. It's made to spend. That's the way I look at it.

Q - What do you do with yourself these days?

A - What I've basically been doing is writing. I just got me a beautiful new wife and getting settled into that situation. Writing is what helped me and gotten me to where I am now and that's what I want to concentrate on.

Q - Now, tell me the truth. Is "Chevy Van" an autobiographical song?

A - No. (laughs) It never happened. I thought it might be a neat idea to sing it. I never was that lucky. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Sammy Johns passed away on January 4th, 2013 at the age of 66.