Singer Billy Joe Royal dies, known for 'Down in the Boondocks'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Billy Joe Royal, who scored a hit with “Down in the Boondocks” in 1965 and toured nearly continuously in the next 50 years, has died, his agent said on Wednesday. He was 73.

Royal, a Georgia native who recorded pop and country hits, died on Tuesday morning in his sleep at his home in Morehead City, North Carolina, said Brent Taylor, booking agent for the artist.

Taylor said Royal was enjoying touring and last performed on Sept. 24 at the Gwinnett County Fair in Lawrenceville, Georgia, before going home to rest and spend time with his daughter, Savannah Royal, a university student.

“He lived and breathed for that girl,” Taylor said.

Taylor said Royal was scheduled to perform in Mississippi and Louisiana in December. Taylor was mapping out 2016 tours of Europe and Australia for the singer, who was afraid of flying.

Royal was performing on the “Georgia Jubilee” radio program when he met Joe South, who wrote “Boondocks.” The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 for Royal, whose other hits included “I Knew You When” and “Cherry Hill Park.”

After his pop career faded, Royal signed with Atlantic Records, recording “Burned Like a Rocket,” “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore” and other country hits.

“He was such a nice guy. I probably spent 60 hours in the car with him last summer,” singer-songwriter Bobby Tomberlin, a friend of Royal, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Tomberlin said he toured this past summer with Royal, who preferred traveling by bus or car.

“He told a lot of great stories, like riding in a car with Tom Jones on his first tour of America as part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, getting to know Elvis Presley during his Vegas years. And getting to know Fats Domino and Roy Orbison and George Jones. And other legends,” Tomberlin said.

Songwriter B.J. Thomas, known for the hit song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” from the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” toured with Royal in recent years.

“He was a sweet and talented man,” Thomas tweeted on Tuesday. “Never a bad word. One of a Kind.”

Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by David Bailey and Peter Cooney