Down in the Boondocks

This song is about young lovers who are from contrasting backgrounds and they are forced to meet surreptitiously, because of parental opposition. In this cross-cultural tale of the rich girl and the poor boy who loves her, the boy feels unworthy, because his social class in beneath what she was raised in.  It is a small town and the girl lives nearby, as the boy from the boondocks can watch the lights from her house that is up on the hill.  The people who live or are born in the rural area of the boondocks are usually poor and belong to a lower class, being unrefined, backwards, unsophisticated or even illiterate as compared to those who live up on the hill.  The young man works for the girl’s father and he is sure that his boss would not approve of him as a suitor for his daughter.  He is not deterred and he strives to find a way, to move from his old shack, but the social division prevents him from proclaiming his love and keeps him out of the country club crowd, despite the girl sharing her feelings of love for him.  He needed to be content dating her in secrecy, as he would not dare to knock on her door, because her daddy is his boss and that would be a sure way of losing his job which he needs.  His plan was to work as hard as he could and as much as he can and save up all of his money, till he is able to fit in with the higher class members of society and then he will finally be able to date this girl out in public.  Even though he is being patient, they have made plans to meet tonight.

The boondocks or the boonies usually indicates that a place is in the middle of nowhere.  It is remote and out of the way, off the beaten path, in the backwoods, on the other side of the tracks, out in the sticks, or possibly part of Bum Fucked Egypt. The word boondocks has a long history that goes all the way back to the Spanish-American War which was fought between the United States and Spain in 1898.  Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in Cuba, leading to US intervention in the Cuban War of Independence.  The Spanish fleet guarding the Philippines was defeated by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey on May 1, 1898.  The United States acquired the Philippines from Spain in 1898 following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War.  The Philippine-American War immediately followed a year later and would continue until 1902.  The word boondocks is derived from the Tagalog (one of the two official languages of the Philippines with the other being English) word bundok, which means mountain.  American soldiers stationed in the Philippines adopted the word in the early 1900s, shifting the meaning to stand for an isolated or wild region.

Boondocks being a relic of the American military occupation in the Philippines, was brought back to mainstream attention because of a now largely forgotten, fatal training accident on Parris Island which happened on April 8, 1956.  Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew McKeon ordered the men in his platoon to march to Ribbon Creek on Parris Island, in South Carolina, where six young Marines drowned.  McKeon was charged with manslaughter, cruelty and drinking in violation of regulations.  The word ‘boondocks’ was frequently used in the coverage of the incident, with newspapers noting that McKeon led his platoon ‘out into the boondocks and eventually into tragedy’.  A little less than a decade after the Ribbon Creek tragedy, singer Billy Joe Royal reached No. 9 on the Billboard charts in 1965 with his song ‘Down in the Boondocks’, where the definition of the word boondocks became pithy associating rural American as being bound to society norms.  In 2005, the country group ‘Little Big Town’ recorded a song titled ‘Boondocks’ which equated a feeling of pride of for those who were part of rural America.

“I feel no shame
I’m proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks”

Like the song that I did yesterday Hush, ‘Down in the Boondocks’ was also written by Joe South who lived from February 28, 1940 – September 5, 2012 and died at the age of 72 of a heart attack.  Joe was a singer-songwriter who performed hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s including ‘Games People Play’ and ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’.  His real name was Joseph Souter and he had a brother named Tommy Souter who was a drummer with Joe South in the ‘Believers’, but he committed suicide in 1971.  South worked as a session guitar player on recordings of some of the biggest names of the 1960s including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, among others like Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins and Wilson Pickett.  He had a string of hits of his own and he won two Grammys for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year.  In 1965, South’s song ‘Down in the Boondocks’ was a  hit for singer Billy Joe Royal.

Billy Joe Royal was born into a family of entertainers in Valdosta, Georgia and he was playing steel guitar in his uncle’s country band from the age of 11.  He was on the popular Alabama Jubilee radio show from the age of 14 and he befriended Joe South.  He formed his own band, the ‘Corvettes’, in high school, and by the time he left, he could get by on guitar, piano and drums, as well as having a distinctive singing voice.  His best friend is B.J. Thomas the guy who had a big hit with ‘Hooked on a feeling’ and he was a neighbor to Kenny Rogers and from time to time he hung out with Elvis.  After the Jubilee broke up, Joe got a job at this big club called the Bamboo Ranch which was a large dance hall in Savannah that drew 3,000 people a night.  This is where he hooked up with Joe South and worked with other big names like Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Ray Price, Marty Robbins and Roy Orbison, learning from the best.  Joe South asked Royal to make a demonstration record of ‘Down In The Boondocks’ so that he could pitch it to Gene Pitney.  Royal’s musical pursuit took him to Cincinnati, where ‘Boondocks’ had regional success that would propel him to national prominence.

He moved back to Georgia and had a break-out song ‘Burned Like A Rocket’, but after the space shuttle Challenger exploded any further airplay was out of the question.  Royal was content playing the oldies circuit, often with his friend BJ Thomas, and they regularly played in Las Vegas.  ‘Down in the Boondocks’ was Billy Joe Royal’s biggest career hit, although it only climbed to #9.  This song is popular for its clear, distinct lyrics and clean guitar sound.

I am more familiar with the New Riders version of this song.

Down in the boondocks
Down in the boondocks
People put me down ‘cause
That’s the side of town I was born in
I love her she loves me but I don’t fit in her society
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks

Every night I watch the lights from the house up on the hill
I love a little girl who lives up there and I guess I always will
But I don’t dare knock on her door
‘Cause her daddy is my boss man
So I just have to be content
To see her whenever I can

Down in the boondocks
Down in the boondocks
People put me down ‘cause
That’s the side of town I was born in
I love her she loves me but I don’t fit in her society
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks

Down in the boondocks
Down in the boondocks

One fine day I’ll find the way
To move from this old shack
I’ll hold my head up like a king
And I never never will look back
Until that morning I’ll work and slave
And I’ll save every dime
But tonight she’ll have to steal away
To see me one more time

Down in the boondocks
Down in the boondocks
People put me down ‘cause
That’s the side of town I was born in
I love her she loves me but I don’t fit in her society
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Bound, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Definition and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Pithy.

10 thoughts on “Down in the Boondocks

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