Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Passings: Billy Joe Royal (1942 - 2015)

Billy Joe Royal, who had hits in the 60's like Down in the Boondocks and Cherry Hill Park and reemerged in the 80's with a series of country hits, died in his sleep on Tuesday at his home in North Carolina at the age of 73.

B.J. Thomas broke the news to the world on Wednesday morning on Twitter, saying "My best friend Billy Joe Royal, died this morning. He was a sweet and talented man. Never a bad word. One of a kind."

Born in Valdosta and raised in Marietta, GA, Royal realized that music might be a career choice after seeing Elvis Presley on the Tommy Dorsey Show. "When he made it so big, all us Southern boys thought maybe we had a shot, too."

Even at a younger age, he dabbled with the stage, first appearing at a PTA show at the age of five and, later, received his first paycheck after doing a show in Atlanta that also featured a young Gladys Knight.

Royal soon found himself as a regular on The Georgia Jubilee radio show along with Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Joe South and Freddy Weller and moved to a headlining spot at The Bamboo Ranch in Savannah.

In 1965, South had Royal record his song Down in the Boondocks which shot to number 9 in the U.S. and topped the chart in Canada. Royal had a second Canadian number 1 a few months later with I Knew You When which went to 14 in the U.S.

Over the next three years, Royal had lest success, with his biggest hits being I've Got to Be Somebody (1966 / #38) and South's Hush (1967 / #52) but, in 1969, he had a resurgence with Cherry Hill Park which peaked at number 15.

During the 80's, both Royal and his friend Thomas had a resurgence in their respective careers on the Country charts. Billy's new string of hits started with Burned Like a Rocket (1985 / #10 Country), written by Gary Burr who is now part of the Blue Sky Riders with Kenny Loggins, and was followed by I'll Pin a Note On Your Pillow (1987 / #5 Country), Tell It Like It Is (1989 / #2), Love Has No Right (1989 / #4) and Till I Can't Take It Anymore (1989 / #2).

In recent years, Royal continued to tour and record with his last two albums being Going By Daydreams (2007) and His First Gospel Album (2009). His final performance was on September 24 at the Gwinnett County Fair in Georgia.

Royal is survived by his ex-wife, a daughter and two step-sons.