(Note: I'm sure that's a CD cover over there, but I can't find the image for the original Down in the Boondocks album, on which I Knew You When was released, anywhere.)
I don't know what got me started thinking about I Knew You When this week. It's not like Billy Joe Royal can be easily found in the airwaves mainstream anymore, although apparently he still tours and is as active as ever. I'm listening right now to all kinds of recordings he's had since that I knew nothing of, and he's good!!!
Royal grew up in a thriving regional music scene in and around Atlanta that included the likes of Joe South, B.J. Thomas (with whom he still tours), Swinging Medallions and Classics IV. Best known for Down in the Boondocks, which broke nationally when he was busy working the club circuit in Cincinnati, Royal followed it with the chillingly irresistible I Knew You When, both of which Joe South wrote for him. A prolific songwriter, South attained national stardom with Games People Play, and was also the composer of (I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden which became a huge hit for Lynn Anderson.
According to his fansite, Royal debuted as a paid performer when he worked a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta that also featured Gladys Knight. He began to get significant attention regionally when he became a regular on The Georgia Jubilee radio show; this is how he met South. He soon became part of a house band in Savannah, where he sang in front of thousands and with such acts as Fats Domino, George Jones, Roy Orbison and the Isley Brothers.
I've just learned from reading a fragment of Rock'n' Roll and the Cleveland Connection by Deanna R. Adams that an American Bandstand-inspired show called Upbeat that aired here was the launching pad for Royal's national breakthrough. Interesting! I didn't live here at the time so was not familiar with the show, but I love those local angles.
Royal's exposure to - and mining of - such diversity in his musical influences infused his work with sensibilities that ranged from soul to r&b to country, making him yet another example of a 60s artist who probably would have gotten limited airplay today because he was too hard to shoehorn into any one genre.