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Billy Joe Royal
Article by Ron Holland
The Georgia Music Channel

The world didn't know it yet, but April 3, 1942 would be a day that started the life of a Georgia singer that would entertain thousands in his teens and later go on to have several pop and country hit songs entertaining millions. It was the birth of a singer named Billy Joe Royal.

Born in Valdosta, GA and raised in Marietta, GA, Billy Joe came from a family of musicians. His uncle had a radio show where Royal made his his first public appearance when he was only 11 years old. After the family moved to Marietta, he met Jerry Reed's girl-friend (later Jerry's wife) and she encouraged Billy Joe to audition for the Georgia Jubilee. At the age of 14, he auditioned and became a regular on the popular radio show, performing with artist like Ray Stevens, Joe South, Jerry Reed and various other artists. He formed a band, Billy Joe and The Corvettes, while in high school.

Royal eventually moved to Savannah, GA and shared residence with songwriter Joe South and began playing at The Bamboo Ranch, a club popular in the coastal area that drew huge crowds. He started singing between big acts and eventually began playing six nights a week to thousands in a club where Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Isley Brothers, Roy Orbison, George Jones and many other talented artists performed. Buddy Livingston had a 30 minute television show that aired as much as five times a week on WTOC in Savannah where Royal also performed.

In the 60's, Billy Joe found out about a club in Cincinnati and moved there in search of a record contract. In 1962,
while in Cincinnati, Joe South called him and asked him to do a demo of a song he'd written. Royal flew to Atlanta where he recorded the demo. As a result, Bill Lowery, a very respected and successful publisher and producer, loved the recording and landed Royal a six year contract with Columbia Records. The song that pushed Royal to stardom was “Down In The Boondocks”, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A unique element to that recording is that a septic tank was used to create the echo sound effects to the song.

Royal caught the eye of Dick Clark and performed on The Cavalcade of Stars, which was like a marathon
of one night gigs, where he bonded with many fellow artists like Herman's Hermits, Jackie DeShannon and Peter & Gordon and other fellow artists. At the end of the tour during the wrap-up party, Clark required all the artists to draw names of the artists on the tour from a hat and dress like that artist. Royal, along with Tom Jones, Mel Carter and Peter Asher drew “The Shirelles”. For the party they all showed up in chiffon dresses and wigs.

Royal continued with other hits and in November 1965 “I Knew You When” peaked on the pop charts at #14. He followed with “Cherry Hill Park”, peaking at #15 in November 1969 charting several other singles, but not with the same success.

In the mid-60's Paul Cochran, a very respected music publisher, promoter and manager, had partnered with
Buddy Buie, J. R. Cobb and Bill Lowery to form Low-Sal Music who published “Cherry Hill Park”, with Buddie Buie as producer. Cochran managed Royal throughout the years. He said, “among the many artists that I've worked with, Billy Joe Royal is a favorite.”

In the 70's, Royal was a regular stage performer in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Elvis and Royal became friends in Vegas, sharing the same hotel marquee that advertised their individual appearances.
The “Hollywood Reporter” described him as a potentially rivaling Elvis Presley and Tom Jones. In the mid 70's he began to do some minor television acting for a short time and in 1978 recorded the cover of “Under The Boardwalk” with minimal success.

With his roots from South Georgia and having earlier influences from country music, it seemed
natural to record country music songs, so he moved to Nashville. His pop hits had already charted on the country charts covered by other artists and as Royal said at the time, “my first club job was in a country band. We worked with Ray Price and Jim Reeves. It's not like all I'd ever done was pop. I haven't changed my style. The kind of music I did in the 60's is now being played country, so I think there's a place for what I want to do in country music. I feel comfortable in country.” In March 1985, he released the single “Burned Like A Rocket” on Bill Lowery's label Southern Tracks which lead to an Atlantic / America record deal, produced by Nelson Larkin, who released it in October. While tracking 19 weeks on the country chart, it peaked at # 10. Royal would follow with more than a dozen hit songs on the country charts - six in the Top 10. He received a gold record in 1987 for the album, “The Royal Treatment”, which produced the hits “I'll Pin A Note On Your Pillow” (Dec. 1987 - #5), “Out Of Sight On My Mind” (June 1988 - #10) and “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin” (Oct. 1988 - #17). Some of his other hits were, “I Miss You Already” (Nov. 1986 - #14), “Old Bridges Burn Slow” (May 1987 - #11), “Tell It Like It Is” (Apr. 1989 - #2), “Love Has No Right” (Aug. 1989 - #4) and “Till I Can't Take It Anymore” (Dec. 1989 - #2).

In 1988, Billy Joe Royal was inducted into The Georgia Music Hall Of Fame. Since then, Billy Joe has teamed up with his longtime friend B. J. Thomas on the Raindrops and Boondocks Tour. Maintaining that soul-spirited and smooth voice, he also released the CD “Going By Daydreams” in 2007 and continues to perform.

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