Singer Billy Joe Royal, who scored a memorable top 10 pop hit in 1965 with “Down in the Boondocks” and later became a country star, died Oct. 6 at his home in Morehead City, North Carolina. He was 73.

He died in his sleep, said his stepson Trey Rivenbark.

Born in Valdosta, Georgia, on April 3, 1942, Royal was exposed to country music at a young age, singing with his uncle’s band.

“They had a radio show in Valdosta and they let me sing,” he said in a 2010 interview. “And for some reason, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to be in music.”

By the time he was in high school in Marietta, he was singing with a rock band called the Corvettes. Influenced by Elvis Presley, Royal swiveled his hips so much during a school show that officials banned the Corvettes from playing at assemblies.

In the late 1950s, he developed his tenor voice and singing style at Atlanta clubs, sometimes doing five sets a night. He got to meet and sometimes perform with stars, including B.B. King, Roy Orbison, The Drifters and Sam Cooke.

Most importantly to his career, he worked with songwriter and producer Joe South, who wrote “Down in the Boondocks.”

With its repetitive refrain that got stuck in listeners’ minds, the song reached No. 9 on the Billboard chart. Royal also found success with other songs in that era, including “Cherry Hill Park” and “Hush.”

He went on to do well with country songs such as “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow,” “Tell It Like It Is” and “‘Till I Can’t Take It Anymore.”