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For most of his career, pianist/vocalist Mickey Gilley lived in the shadow of his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, playing a similar fusion of country, rock, blues, and R&B. In the early '70s, he managed to breakthrough into country stardom, but it wasn't until the late '70s, when he became associated with the urban cowboy movement, that he became a superstar.
Gilley, like Lewis, was raised in Ferriday, LA. It wasn't until Jerry Lee had a hit with his first Sun single, "Crazy Arms," that Mickey decided he wanted to pursue a musical career. Gilley began recording for a number of independent Texas labels without much success in the late '50s. In the early '60s, he became a local favorite by playing a never-ending series of bars and clubs. A few of singles became Texas hits, but he didn't have a national hit until 1968 with minor hit "Now I Can Live Again" on Paula Records.
In 1970, he opened Gilley's Club in Pasadena; the honky tonk had previously been known as Sherry's Club, and its owner, Sherwood Cryer, asked Mickey to re-open the bar with him. In 1974, Gilley had another local hit with "Room Full of Roses," which was released on Astro Records. Playboy Records, which was distributed by Epic, heard the record and acquired national distribution for the single. It became a number one country hit, crossing over to number 50 on the pop charts. "Room Full of Roses" launched a string of updated, countrypolitan-inflected honky tonk hits for Gilley that ran for just over a decade. Gilley racked up 16 number one hits besides "Room Full of Roses," including "I Overlooked an Orchid," "City Lights," "She's Pulling Me Back Again," "True Love Ways," "Stand by Me," "That's All That Matters," and "A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight)."
Gilley signed with Epic Records after Playboy folded in 1978. The following year, the film Urban Cowboy -- which was based on Gilley's Club and featured a cameo by Mickey, as well as several of his songs -- brought him to national attention, which resulted in a string of six straight number one singles. He continued to have Top Ten hits until 1986, when his career began to slip. The late '80s were plagued with problems for Gilley. Not only had a new generation of country singers replaced him on the charts, he had financial problems which culminated in the closing of Gilley's Club. He turned his career around in the early '90s, when he became one of the first country stars to open a permanent theater in Branson, MO. Although Gilley recorded some albums in the '90s -- which were primarily available through television advertisements -- he focused his career on the theater.
Mickey Leroy Gilley (born March 9, 1936) is an American country music singer and musician. Although he started out singing straight-up country and western material in the 1970s, he moved towards a more pop-friendly sound in the 1980s, bringing him further success on not just the country charts, but the pop charts as well. Among his biggest hits are "Room Full of Roses," "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time," and the remake of the Soul hit "Stand by Me". He is also the cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl McVoy, Jim Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Gilley is a licensed pilot, who holds an instrument rating with commercial pilot privileges for multi-engine airplanes, as well as private pilot privileges for single engine aircraft."FAA Registry – Airmen – AirmenInquiry – Main". Amsrvs.registry.faa.gov. March 21, 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-31.
ContentsBiography1.1 Early life and the rise to fame1.2 Recording career in the 1970s before Urban Cowboy1.3 Recording career in the 1980s with the success of Urban Cowboy1.4 Later career1.5 Personal
Early life and the rise to fame
He was born to Arthur Fillmore Gilley (November 27, 1897 – February 2, 1982) and Irene (Lewis) Gilley (September 11, 1900 – August 14, 1985) in Natchez, Mississippi. For many years, Gilley lived in the shadow of his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock and roll singer and musician in the 1950s. The two as children grew up close by each other; Gilley lived just across the Mississippi River from Louisiana where Lewis grew up. Gilley, Lewis, and another cousin Jimmy Swaggart played piano together as children. This is when Gilley first learned to play the piano. Together, they all sang boogie-woogie and Gospel music, however, Gilley did not consider himself a professional singer until Jerry Lee hit the top of the charts in the 1950s. Mickey cut a few singles on his own in late 1950s and played sessions in New Orleans with producer Huey Meaux. In 1958, he had a record "Call Me Shorty" on the Dot label and it sold well. In the 1960s, he played at many clubs and bars, getting a following at the Nesadel Club in Pasadena, Texas. In 1967, Paula Records released Gilley's first album called Down the Line and the following, he had a minor hit from the album called "Now I Can Live Again".
In 1970 Gilley opened up his first club in Pasadena, Texas, called Gilley's Club, replacing the club that was there called Shelley's Club. The club later became known as the "world's biggest honky tonk." Gilley's Club, and its mechanical bull, was portrayed heavily in the 1980 film, Urban Cowboy. He owned "Gilley's Club" with former owner of Shelley's Club, Sherwood Cryer, who asked Gilley to re-open the bar with him. The club portion of Gilley's burned in 1990, and later the rodeo arena portion was razed in 2005 to make way for a school.
Recording career in the 1970s before Urban Cowboy
In 1974, Gilley recorded a song that originally was only supposed to be recorded for fun entitled "Room Full of Roses", written by Tim Spencer of the Sons of the Pioneers, which was a one-time hit for George Morgan. The song was released by Astro Records that year, and then Playboy Records got a hold of the single, and got national distribution for "Room Full of Roses". From then on, Gilley was signed to Playboy Records working with his long-time friend Eddie Kilroy. "Room Full of Roses" became the song that put Gilley on national radar, hitting the very top of the Country charts that year, as well as making it to No. 50 on the pop music charts. "Room Full of Roses" today remains as one of his signature songs.
He had a string of top tens and No. 1s throughout the 1970s. Some of these hits were cover versions of songs, including the Bill Anderson song "City Lights", George Jones' "Window Up Above", and Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me". He remained a popular Country act for the rest of the 1970s. Other hits in the 1970s include "Chains of Love" (1977), "Honky Tonk Memories" (1977), "She's Pulling Me Back Again" (1977), and "Here Comes the Hurt Again" (1978). These songs were a mix of honky tonk and countrypolitan that brought Gilley to the top of the charts in the 1970s.
However, a new breed of singers were entering Country Music. These singers were Country-crossover artists that brought Country success with them onto the pop charts. These singers include Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, Olivia Newton-John, Barbara Mandrell, and Kenny Rogers. In order to compete with these new breed of Country singers, Gilley had to sound like them and have that kind of country-pop success that these singers were having.
In 1978, Gilley signed on with Epic Records, when Playboy Records was bought by Epic. By 1979, his success was fading slightly. Songs like "The Power of Positive Drinkin'", "Just Long Enough to Say Goodbye", and "My Silver Lining" just made the Top Ten.
Recording career in the 1980s with the success of Urban Cowboy
By 1980, Gilley decided to come up with a new sound, in order to bring him country crossover success so many other Country singers (including Eddie Rabbitt, Juice Newton, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton) were having at the time. His career was given a second go-around when one of his recordings was featured on the box-office-selling movie Urban Cowboy. The song was the Country remake of the Soul standard "Stand by Me". As the movie was becoming successful, so was "Stand by Me". The song rose to the top of the Country charts in 1980, as well as hitting the Top 5 of the Adult Contemporary charts, as well as making the Pop Top 40. The song turned Gilley into a pop-country crossover success, yet, despite it being his only Adult Contemporary hit, it did become one of his signature songs.
"Room Full of Roses", "True Love Ways," and "You Don't Know Me" also hit the Billboard Hot 100; additionally, "Bring It On Home To Me," "That's All That Matters" and "Talk to Me" bubbled under (at 101, 101 and 106, respectively). A string of six number-ones on the Country charts followed the success of Urban Cowboy. Other No. 1s include "True Love Ways", "A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight)", "You Don't Know Me", and "Lonely Nights". He never had any other Pop hits though. In 1983, he had other hits, like "Fool For Your Love"; "Paradise Tonight", a duet with Charly McClain; and "Talk to Me" (not to be confused with the Stevie Nicks hit of the same name). All these songs from 1983 were No. 1 hits for Gilley. In 1984, he had a hit, which just missed topping the Country charts called "You've Really Got a Hold on Me". Another hit followed with a duet with Charly McClain, "Candy Man," and a solo hit with "Too Good To Stop Now", both of which made the Top 5 that year. However, his stream of hits was beginning to start coming to an end.
Up until 1986, Gilley struggled to make it into the Top 10. He was only releasing two singles each year. The year 1985 brought Top 10's with "I'm the One Mama Warned You About" and "You've Got Something on Your Mind", followed by a Top 5 with "Your Memory Ain't What It Used To Be", and a Top 10 with "Doo-Wah Days" in 1986. "Doo-Wah Days" was Gilley's last Top 10 hit on the Country charts, as a new breed of George Strait-inspired Country singers called the "Traditionalists" were moving into Nashville, like Clint Black, Patty Loveless, Reba McEntire, and Randy Travis. Not only was his chart success fading, but Gilley has a series of financial problems that led to the closing of his club in Pasadena, Texas.
In 1988, Gilley signed with Airborne Records, and released an album, Chasin' Rainbows, which resulted in his last Top 40 country hit in "She Reminded Me of You," which made No. 23 that year.
Overall in his career, that spanned 15 years of chart success, Gilley has had 17 No. 1 hits on the Country charts.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Mickey Gilley has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6930 Hollywood, Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. He also turned his attention to Branson, Missouri, where he built a theater, which was a soon-to-be boomtown for the country music industry.
On March 2, 2002, Gilley, along with his two famous cousins Lewis and Swaggart, were inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday, Louisiana. Gilley also appeared on "Urban Cowboys", episode 9 in the third season of American Pickers, which aired originally on September 5, 2011. In 2012, Gilley signed a Branson-based vocal group, Six, to a three-year lease to perform in his theater, with an option to buy it when the contract expires.
Gilley's first wife was Geraldine Garrett, who he married in 1953 and divorced in 1961. She was the mother of three of his four children (Keith Ray, Michael, and Kathy). Geraldine died on March 6, 2010.
Gilley's second wife is the former Vivian McDonald, by whom he has another son, Gregory. They married in 1962. Gilley's children Kathy and Keith are in the music business.
In July 2009, Gilley was helping a neighbor move some furniture when he fell with the love seat falling on top of him, crushing four vertebrae. The incident left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down, but with some intense physical therapy he was able to walk again and return to the stage a year later. However, he still lacks the hand coordination necessary to play the piano.Davis, J. D. (2012), Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley (1st ed.), Dallas, Texas: Brown Books Publishing Group, ISBN 978-1-61254-041-2 From Mickey Gilley show in Branson, Missouri, "His Story, His Life, His Music." June 19, 2013 "Gilley's recovery continues". Branson Tri-Lakes News. Retrieved April 22, 2012. Smith, William Michael. "The Comeback Cowboy". Houston Press. Retrieved September 19, 2012.