Mickey Leroy Gilley (born , 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.
Early life and the rise to fame
He was born to Mr. and Mrs. A.S. Gilley in Natchez, the seat of Adams County in western 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 didn't 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 Houston, 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." He owned "Gilley's Club" with former owner of Shelley's Club named Sherwood Cryer, who asked Gilley to re-open the bar with him. The club portion of Gilley's burned in 1990, while the rodeo arena portion was razed in 2005 to make way for a school.
Recording career in the 70s 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 #100 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 #1s throughout the 70s. 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". He remained a popular Country act for the rest of the 70s. Other hits in the 70s 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 70s.
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, 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 80s 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. However, the song was his only Adult Contemporary hit, but 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 #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 #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 #23 that year.
Overall in his career, that spanned 15 years of chart success, Gilley has had 17 #1 hits on the Country charts.
Later career and life today
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 became one of the first to build a theater there, which was a soon-to-be boom town for the Country Music industry.
On , 2002, Gilley, along with his two famous cousins Lewis and Swaggart, were inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday. Gilley's wife is named Vivian. Son Keith Gilley is also in the music business. Another son is Greg Gilley.