Johns’ father gave him a guitar when he was nine, and he founded his first band The Devilles as a teen in 1962 before graduating from Belmont High School. The group performed locally and made a few records for the Dixie label. Johns moved to Atlanta, where he signed with General Recording in 1973. His first solo recording was “Early Morning Love” (1973).
|”Chevy Van” (1975) reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained in the chart for 17 weeks. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. on May 4, 1975. The “Chevy Van” song and album led to a contract with Warner Curb Records to produce a soundtrack for the 1977 film “The Van”, featuring actor Danny DeVito. Johns later switched to the Elektra label, where he issued singles such as “Common Man” and “Love Me off the Road”. John Conlee’s cover version of his “Common Man” reached #1. Conlee made the song his theme song. Johns’ songs have also been covered by Waylon Jennings, Sammy Kershaw, Conway Twitty, and Fu Manchu. Johns’ “Desperado Love” brought Twitty his final gold record. After Jennings sang Johns’ song “America” at a celebration of the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1985, the single was nominated for country song of the year. Kershaw covered the song that started it all for Johns, “Chevy Van,” on his “Politics Religion, and Her” album in 1996 as have Waylon Jennings and Eric Church.