Billy Joe Royal grew up in Valdosta Georgia (south of Atlanta). Many members of his family were active in the music industry. Billy sang on his uncle’s radio show when he was 11. He formed his own rock-and-roll band while still in high school and sang in clubs in the Atlanta area. While pursuing a career in music, Billy became roommates with Joe South. Billy recorded a single that went ignored in 1962.
Joe contacted Billy a few years later and asked him to return to Atlanta to record a demo record. Joe had written a song that he wanted to pitch to Gene Pitney. Billy recorded the demo for Down In The Boondocks. Columbia Records eventually heard the demo and signed Billy to a six-year contract in 1965. Columbia released his version of Down In The Boondocks as a single and it reached #9 on the Hot 100.
Billy recorded four more songs Joe had written on his first album. I Knew You When was the follow-up song that Columbia released. The single reached #14 in late 1965. The next single from the album was I’ve Got To Be Somebody, but the record peaked at #38 and was nearly the end of Billy’s career.
In 1967, Billy released several more songs written by Joe that eventually became hits, just not for Billy. His version of Hush peaked at only #52. Billy’s unusual dancing on a video for the single may have helped sink sales when he did his best to almost moonwalk. A hard rock version of Hush by Deep Purple made it to #4 in 1968.
Billy’s version of Yo-Yo didn’t do well but earned a gold record for the Osmonds when they covered the song in 1971 and took it to #3 on the Hot 100.
Billy did have one more hit in 1969 when Cherry Hill Park reached #15.
Billy returned to Nashville in the early 1980s and successfully pursued a career singing Country music. It took a few years, but beginning in 1985 he recorded ten records that reached the top twenty on the Country chart. His biggest hit came in 1989 with his #2 pop-country cover of Aaron Neville’s Tell It Like It Is.
Billy died in his sleep in 2015.
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