Billy Joe Royal, Country and Pop Singer, Dead at 73

"Down in the Boondocks" singer had a string of country hits in the Eighties

Billy Joe Royal, who scored the 1965 Top Ten single "Down in the Boondocks" and also made frequent appearances on the country chart in the Eighties, died suddenly Tuesday morning at his Marietta, North Carolina home, according to the Tennessean. He was 73 years old.

Born April 3, 1942, in Valdosta, Georgia, Royal made his singing debut at just five years old and earned his first paycheck playing a New Year's Eve show that also featured Gladys Knight. By the time he was nine, he was taking steel guitar lessons, with an eye toward playing in his uncle's band. Royal would go on to perform on the Marietta radio show Georgia Jubilee, where he met Joe South, the songwriter who penned both "Down in the Boondocks" and Royal's Top 20 follow-up "I Knew You When."

Royal, who had also performed in the house band at the Gilley's-like Bamboo Ranch in Savannah, Georgia, toured with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars alongside Herman's Hermits, Jackie DeShannon and others, with a backing band featuring future members of Chicago. He hit with the Top 15 single "Cherry Hill Park" in 1969, garnering a few more minor pop hits before signing with the Atlantic label and releasing a number of successful country singles, including the 1985 Top 10 "Burned Like a Rocket." The singer's 1987 LP, The Royal Treatment, was certified gold and featured "I'll Pin a Note on Your Pillow," which peaked at Number Five on the country chart. His 1989 remake of the Aaron Neville hit "Tell It Like It Is" just missed the chart summit, landing at Number Two. That same year, he had a second Number Two country single with "Till I Can't Take It Anymore."

In 1988, Royal was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In recent years, he toured with longtime friend and fellow crossover artist B.J. Thomas, releasing the 2007 LP Going by Daydreams, on Thomas's Raindrops Records label. The project was produced by the legendary Chips Moman. According to the Tennessean, Royal's final live performance took place September 24th at the Gwinnett County Fair in his native Georgia.

Royal is survived by his ex-wife, Michelle Royal, daughter Savannah Royal, and two stepsons, Trey and Joey Riverbank. Funeral arrangements are pending.