Mickey Gilley is a country and western musician and club owner who was at the center of the “Urban Cowboy” sensation of the early '80s. He grew up in Ferriday, La., and learned to play boogie-woogie and Gospel music on piano alongside cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and future televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. He scored 39 Top 10 country hits during his career.
After Lewis hit the pop charts in the 1950s, Gilley began pursuing music as a career, living as construction worker by day and moonlighting as a singer at local clubs. He cut several singles in the late-50s for indie Texas labels and had some early success with the song “Call Me Shorty.” He had his first national hit in 1968 with “Now I Can Live Again.” More country hits followed, including a winning-streak of chart-topping country singles: “I Overlooked an Orchid,” “City Lights,” “She's Pulling Me Back Again,” “True Love Ways,” “Room Full of Roses” and “A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight).”
In 1971, he opened the Gilley's Club in Pasadena, Texas, and it became an essential stop for rising country music artists. Its fame grew after Esquire magazine published the article “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy,” which inspired the John Travolta movie vehicle “Urban Cowboy” (1980). The honky-tonk was a central location of the film, and Gilley appeared onscreen, along with other popular country acts. Gilley's recording of “Stand By Me” was included on the hit movie soundtrack and reached No. 1 on the country chart.
By the end of the '80s, newer country artists had begun to eclipse the Urban Cowboy generation, and the original Gilley's Club was closed. The building was gutted in an arson fire and demolished years later. (A new venue, Gilley's Dallas, was opened in 2001.) In 1990, Gilley was among the first country stars to relocate to Branson, Mo., performing the hit songs of his career with an eight-piece band at the Mickey Gilley Theatre.