Like a lot of musicians, Johns started young. When he was nine, his father presented him with a guitar. By the time he was a teenager in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, he had established his own band, the Devilles. The group performed in local clubs and cut a few records on the Dixie record label. Shifting to Atlanta, he began to make a name for himself and snagged a recording contract in 1973. General Recording Corporation put out Johns' first solo record, "Early Morning Love," the following year.