On The Lighter Side: Remembering Mickey Gilley, Part II

Joe Guilbeau

With “Stand by Me” and his “Urban Cowboy” ubiquity pushing him forward, Mickey Gilley continued to earn big hits: 1981’s “A Headache Tomorrow (or a Heartache Tonight),” 1982’s “Talk to Me” and 1983 “Fool for Your Love.”

He also started acting in the 1980s with appearances on “Fantasy Island,” “CHIPS” and “The Fall Guy,” and kept recording albums well into the 1990s. In 1990, he opened the Mickey Gilley Theater in Branson, Mo., where he often performed with his fellow “Urban Cowboy” singer Johnny Lee.

“Urban Cowboy launched me into the stratosphere,” Gilley told Rolling Stone in 2015, going onto recount how the movie and John Travolta ignited not only his career, but western fashion.

There are few artists more synonymous with a specific era in country music than Mickey Gilley was with the “Urban Cowboy” movement.

Read part 1:The Lighter Side: Remembering Mickey Gilley

“I was in an elevator one night in Nashville in the 1980s, and there was a guy in there who thanked me for all I did for western wear,” Gilley said.

There are few artists more synonymous with a specific era in country music than Mickey Gilley was with the “Urban Cowboy” movement. The early ’80s influence brought country out of the country and into the industrial urban areas, where many rural residents flocked for blue-collar jobs.

“Urban Cowboy” popularized the era, but Gilley’s sound tracked it. In addition, it offered the iconic setting with his legendary honkytonk in Pasadena, Texas.

A grown-up photo of the three famous cousins: Mickey Gilley, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis. (Jackie Finch / Courtesy photo)

Gilley grew up in the shadow of his famous cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and was also related to performer and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Gilley started his career first working in boogie-woogie and gospel music.

He released a few singles, but nothing really stuck. He then released the song “Room Full of Roses” just for fun, and it shot to No. 1 in 1974. His next three singles would also hit No 1, and his career was off to the races.

Singer Mickey Gilley, left, shares a moment with songwriters Stewart Harris and Keith Stegall, the co-writers of his latest hit, "Lonely Nights," at a Music Row studio Jan. 21, 1982.

Gilley was not exactly favored by the purists of country music. By integrating more pop sounds into country music, he helped open the door for crossover stars such as Kenny Rogers when artists outside the genre, such as Olivia Newton-John and John Denver, were also finding favor in the country format.

Gilley also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. A street in Ferriday is named in his honor.

Joe Guilbeau

His impact was felt so much more than in a single era though, spending over 60 years in the business, minting 16 No. 1 songs over his career and staying active until his 80s.

It all came to an end, though, with word coming down that Gilley died at age 86, right after he came off the road, where he performed 10 shows in April, still going at it.

Gilley had few equals, if any. I was honored to have a speaking relationship with him.