"Down in the Boondocks" was, like "Patches" by Bobby Goldsboro or "Harper Valley PTA" from Jeannie C. Riley, a kind of "country crossover" that everyone could love. I mean, everyone. The song charted higher in Great Britain (#3) than it did in the states (#9). It was written by Joe South, who also gave the world "Games People Play" and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden."
Yeah, the song was a hit back in 1965 but Billy Joe Royal (April 3, 1942 – October 6, 2015) was still working, almost to the end.
Royal's last concert was at the Gwinnett County Fair in Georgia, back on September 24th. Billy was born in Georgia, spending his early years in Marietta. He died in his sleep a few nights ago, at his home in Morehead City, North Carolina.
A down-home, nice and neighborly guy, Billy had a friendly nature, as you can see from this picture:
Though his national fame peaked 50 years ago, Billy scored a few lesser hits (including "Cherry Hill Park" in 1969) and made several C&W albums over the years. It's been said that his song “Burned Like a Rocket” could've returned him to the Top Ten...except that radio stations began pulling it after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Country fans would tell you they bought Top 100 singles by Billy Joe including “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow,” “Tell It Like It Is,” and “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore.” Thanks to these more recent C&W songs, as well as the old classic about the boy from down in the boondocks, Royal was welcome as part of touring shows featuring other older stars including Ronnie McDowell and B.J. Thomas. Billy's 2007 album "Going By Daydreams" was released on B.J. Thomas's record label. Thanks to the universal appeal of his biggest hit, Billy could also turn up at oldies shows, the kind that would feature Peter Noone and Jackie DeShannon.
He weathered sudden but fleeting pop music fame, crossing back into pure country music, and the worries about which new single, if any, would climb the charts and refresh his fame. “I heard stories about how Clark Gable would finish a movie and say, ‘I’m never gonna work again,’” Royal recalled. “So I guess everybody worries about that kind of stuff. After a while I just stopped worrying about it.”
A modest man, Billy said of his smash hit, "Once in a while I hear it on the radio, and it still stands up. The song meant everything to my career. I was making about $125 a week before that."
In 2009 Billy recorded "His First Gospel Album," but it's turned out to be his last. He's survived by his mother, some ex-wives, and his daughter Savannah. Below? Billy Joe Royal was a very fine singer, and he could tackle even the toughest of songs, including the Roy Orbison (Del Shannon, Don McLean) classic, "CRYING."
Crying Billy Joe Royal