Mickey Gilley has had 17 No. 1 hits and 30 top 10 hits over the years, and he has enjoyed every minute of it. “Think about the people that don’t want to go to work because they hate their job. See, I’m just the opposite. I enjoy doing what I do, so it’s not a job to me. It’s like I like to go out and play golf. That’s work, too, but it’s something I enjoy. I enjoy singing. That’s not a job.” With 100 road dates this year, it’s a good thing he enjoys his work! Gilley’s agent laughs as he states that he can’t book him fast enough and calls him a workaholic.
Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis are cousins, so when Gilley was trying to pave his own way in the music industry, he couldn’t help but compare himself to Jerry Lee. “A lady had heard me do ‘She Called Me Baby All Night Long’ at a local TV show there in Houston, and she asked me if I’d record it. I said ‘What for?’ and she said ‘I got 300 jukeboxes.’ I said, ‘You need to get Harlan Howard’s version of the song.’ She said, ‘The record’s out of print.’ So I agreed to go in and record ‘She Called Me Baby All Night Long,’ and for the flip side I picked ‘Room Full of Roses,’ a throw away song as an old George Morgan tune that came out in the late ’40s, early ’50s. That’s Lorrie Morgan’s father. I laid the track down, and I stopped in the middle of it. The guitar player looked over at me and said, ‘What’d you stop for?’ I said, ‘It’s going to sound too much like Jerry Lee Lewis.’ He said, ‘Whoo cares? Nobody’s ever going to hear it,’ and that was my sentiment, too. I said, ‘Yeah, you know you’re right, so I went and recorded it relaxed-didn’t mean anything to me. Radio stations flipped it over and started playing it. Bingo, it went No. 1! It’s crazy. It was like the right place at the right time and the right moment.”
Gilley had a honky tonk bar in Pasadena, Texas that was the setting in the 1980 movie “Urban Cowboy.” He is originally from Louisiana and explains why he never put a club there. “I would have never had a club at all in my career if it had not have been for the fact that I had thrown the towel in in 1971. I didn’t think I was ever going to have a hit. Everyone kept comparing me to my cousin Jerry Lee. So when I opened the club up it was out of desperation to make money. When I opened the club up with this guy I started making more money than I’d ever made in the music industry because I had part of the club and part of the action. When the club became successful, of course I didn’t care whether I had a hit or not, you know.” Gilley relays, “There’s a documentary coming out on Gilley’s, hopefully I think it’s going to be in June on CMT television. They asked me what I wanted to call it, and I said, ‘I think you oughta call it ‘The Rise and Fall and the New Beginning’ because I’ve continued on with the logo, trying to keep it out there, you know. But I’m fixing to turn 79 years old, and I’m still doing what I love to do and that’s perform.”
The 35th anniversary of the Urban Cowboy era is coming up. To celebrate the anniversary, Gilley will be performing in Canada. “I hope to present my life story in music to the folks up there and give them a little insight on what I’m really all about-starting in ’57 when I made my first recording up until I had a successful run in my theater in Branson. But the bottom line is you know the country music fans gave me 17 No. 1 recordings in my career. I had 39 top ten hits and 17 of those went No.1 so I can’t complain – it was a good ride. It’s not as many as George Strait but you know I did have that success. I can’t complain.”
Gilley’s upcoming tour will not be accompanied by any new music, just rerecorded music. “Some of the songs I’ve rerecorded are better than the original. ‘She’s Pulled Me Back’ is much better. Quite a few other tunes on there I rerecorded. ‘City Lights’ is better because I started with a fiddle instead of a piano, which makes it I think a better cut.”
Yet, Gilley does anticipate recording new songs. “I’ve been thinking about going into the recording studio and making a version of ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,’ which is a tune that Elton John wrote that I thought would make a great country song. After hearing Suzy Bogguss’ version of it, I’ve got to revamp my thinking on it a little bit. I’ve got an idea how I want to do it, which I think will be good. And the other thing I’ve been looking at is something that Lionel Richie wrote called ‘Hello.’ The lyrics are so good. I would really like to record those two tunes…”
Gilley obviously isn’t slowing down anytime soon. You can be assured that as long as he’s able to sit on a stage, he’ll be singing to the fans who love him. Perhaps Gilley hasn’t quite received the perpetual accolades he deserves but he is most definitely one of country music’s greatest legends, despite his disappointments at the start of his career. Just goes to show, you can’t keep a good country music man down. And Mickey Gilley…is one of the best!
For more information on tour dates and Mickey Gilley’s music, visit his website.