LifeNotes: Country, Pop Hitmaker Billy Joe Royal Passes

Billy Joe Royal

Billy Joe Royal

Country and pop song stylist Billy Joe Royal has died at age 73.

The Georgia native became a pop star with his version of songwriter Joe South’s “Down in the Boondocks” in 1965. The song was recorded for the country market by both Penny DeHaven and Freddy Weller, predicting Royal’s later career.

Billy Joe Royal followed his breakthrough hit with South’s “I Knew You When.” Linda Ronstadt made the country charts with this song in 1983. Royal introduced South’s “These Are Not My People” in 1967. Weller made it a big country hit in 1969.

“Hush,” also written by South, charted on the pop charts for Royal in 1967. Deep Purple made it a major rock hit in 1970.

Billy Joe Royal’s last big pop hit was 1969’s “Cherry Hill Park.”

He resurfaced in Nashville in 1985 as a country act singing Gary Burr’s “Burned Like a Rocket.” The song was a top-10 hit and rising when the Challenger rocket exploded with its astronauts inside. This is said to have stalled its progress.

Royal rebounded with 1987’s country hits “Old Bridges Burn Slow,” “Members Only” (a duet with Donna Fargo) and “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow,” one of his biggest country radio hits. Its video was No. 1 on CMT. His 1987 LP The Royal Treatment became a Gold Record.

Billy Joe Royal lived in Music City for 20 years. During this time, he sang such country hits as “Out of Sight and on My Mind” (1988),  “Tell It Like It Is” (1989), “Love Has No Right” (1989), “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore” (1989) and “Searchin’ For Some Kind of Clue” (1989).

He last made the country charts with 1992’s “I’m Okay.” Royal was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1988. In later years, he toured on the “oldies” circuit.

Billy Joe Royal died suddenly on Tuesday, Oct. 6. He is survived by daughter Savannah Royal and by stepsons Trey and Joey Rivabank. He also remained close to ex-wife Michelle Royal.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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