Billy Joe Royal, who went from early pop stardom to a successful country career, died suddenly in his sleep at age 73 at his home in North Carolina on Tuesday (Oct. 6). According to reports, Billy Joe was set to resume his tour with Ronnie McDowell in November.
Billy Joe, born and raised in Georgia, achieved instant fame in the rock world with his debut single, “Down in the Boondocks,” which peaked at No. 9 in 1965. Subsequent pop hits included “I Knew You When,” “Hush”—also covered by rock band Deep Purple—and “Cherry Hill Park.”
During the 1980s, Billy Joe made a successful transition to country music. His soulful, Georgia-bred vocals fit perfectly within the country realm and vaulted Billy Joe onto the charts with hits including “Burned Like a Rocket” and “Old Bridges Burn Slow.” His biggest country hit came in 1989 with his cover of “Tell It Like It Is,” which landed at the No. 2 spot on the country charts.
His last charted single was 1992’s “I’m Okay (And Gettin’ Better).” Over the years, Billy Joe stayed busy on tour, often appearing in package shows with such acts as B.J. Thomas and Ronnie McDowell.
Nash Country Weekly sends condolences to Billy Joe’s family and friends.