Mickey Gilley Celebrates 82nd Birthday
On this day back in 1936, Mickey Leroy Gilley was born to Arthur Fillmore Gilley and Irene (Lewis) Gilley in Natchez, Mississippi.
Raised in Ferriday, Louisiana along with his two famous cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart it was there where his love and appreciation of music grew. He absorbed the haunting sounds of Louisiana rhythm and blues by sneaking up to the windows of the clubs at night.
Mickey learned to play piano at an early age but did not achieve the success of his cousin Jerry Lee until later. Moving to Houston in the early 50’s to work construction Mickey did not start playing until 1957 when he recorded his first record “Ooh we Baby”. The song would later by used in a commercial for Yoplait yogurt. In 1959 Mickey had his first charted record, “Is it wrong for loving you?” in which Kenny Rogers played the bass. He continued playing in cities throughout the south but eventually settled into Pasadena where he began performing at the Nesadel Club. There he developed into one of the city’s most popular acts while playing there for more than 10 years. While at the Nesadel Mickey had his second charted record, “Lonely Wine”
In 1971 along with business partner, Sherwood Cryer, he opened the world famous Gilley’s night club in Pasadena, Texas. The club would grow and one day enter into the Guinness Record Book as the World’s largest Honky-Tonk. It was here that Mickey started experiencing his first success when he released “Room Full of Roses”. By the mid-seventies his songs were hitting the country charts with regularity.
As the eighties neared, Gilley’s was growing bigger with every day. Country music’s biggest stars used the club as a launching pad. A television show was developed which only added to the phenomenon. But it was when Esquire Magazine caught wind of the excitement and featured an article called “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy” that caused Gilley’s to develop into an Urban Cowboy craze.
With the club rising in popularity so to did Mickey’s. To name a few of his many hits, “City Lights”, “I Overlooked and Orchid”, and “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time” all reached number one on the Billboard Country Charts. Mickey’s success along with the attention of the Esquire article led Paramount pictures to film a movie in 1979. The movie, Urban Cowboy, would star John Travolta and Debra Winger and predominately featured Gilley’s. Upon the movie’s release Urban Cowboy became a phenomenon. The soundtrack featured many popular artists including a huge hit by Mickey, “Stand By Me”, which went platinum and it made Mickey a household name. Also on the album was the “Orange Blossom Special” performed by Mickey’s Urban Cowboy Band, the song would earn a Grammy Award. He was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and played for two presidents during his career.
Gilley’s shut its doors however in the late eighties and a fire would later destroy the building. But Mickey did not let this discourage him. He took his show on the road and would eventually settle into Branson, MO., a unique community tucked away in the Ozarks. In the 90’s many artists such as Roy Clark, Johnny Cash, Ray Stevens, Box Car Willie, and Mickey Gilley were flocking to the area.
In 1989 Gilley decided to throw his hat in the ring and build his own theatre, his fans loved it. Then in 1993 the unthinkable happened, an electrical short in a neon sign located outside of the building created a spark and the theatre burned to the ground. Six people were in the building, all escaped unharmed. Gilley rebuilt and his career was blooming.
2009 brought another tragedy…Gilley tripped while helping his friends move a sofa and was paralyzed for 3 months, injuring C3, 4, 5, 6, & 7. He could no longer play the piano, walking was difficult, but his voice was better than ever and family and fans kept encouraging him to perform.
Today Gilley “walks” out on the stage unassisted and proceeds to sing his hits and share his musical career. The show is full of stories, music, and tender moments. You just never know what Gilley is going to say and do and the audience loves it. They dance in the aisles, sing along, and laugh with Gilley. Gilley’s number one love is his music, but he continues to give back to the community he lives in. He recently received the Pioneer Award presented to him by the Branson Area Chamber of Commerce, he does two shows a year where the admittance is dog food and he gives the food to the local shelters. He participates in local benefits, veteran shows, and promotes Branson all over the United States.