Mickey Gilley has a good sense of humor about the ups, downs and in betweens of his colorful life. His story includes connections to a couple of “colorful cousins” (Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart); a string of hit records; successful business ventures; plane wrecks; and freak accidents. He has fought his way through paralysis from the neck down to a point where he is back to his old self.
Mickey Gilley is not only tough when it comes to his physical side, but he is tough in the business world, too. He wisely opened a honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas, and named it after himself—Gilley’s. When he put together a string of hits in the ‘70s, not only did he gain fame, but so too, did his club. Those hits include “Roomful of Roses,” “That’s All That Matters To Me,” “Window Up Above,” and his trademark, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time,”
In the ‘80s, the club became the centerpiece of the entire “Urban Cowboy” movement after the John Travolta film of the same name hit theaters. Not only did Gilley find pay dirt with his club but he was riding high on the music charts thanks to his own hit from the film soundtrack, “Stand By Me.”
We have had interviews with Mickey Gilley each time he comes to town to play the Riverside Resort. The following is the latest installment based on a phone conversation we had last week. Here’s Gilley’s latest take on…
How are you doing these days?
I’m doing fabulous. Hey, we got sunny weather here in Branson, Missouri at the present time and it’s nice. I’m gonna bring the sunshine when I come to Laughlin. “Ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone”…so I’m gonna bring it with me. I’m hoping for sunshine, good weather and hopefully a good time in Laughlin.
We understand you have some new music out?
Gilley: I do have a new CD out. It’s called Kicking It Down The Road. I found the title song when I played the Don Gibson Theater in Selma, North Carolina. I fell in love with the song. A guy just handed me a CD—I don’t usually pay any attention to those—but for some reason or another, as fate maybe some would call it, I stuck it in my car CD player and I listened to this record. The first song that came on was called “Kicking It Down The Road.” I fell in love with the song so I did a rearrangement on it and I recorded it and we named the CD Kicking It Down the Road. I found a picture of me, a white and black of me with my leg in the air like I was kicking the piano for the cover so that’s the title of the CD. I got excited about it when we put it out in September. I ran a little special on it with the 17 No. 1 songs I had, along with Kicking It Down The Road which is on a little record label I have since I’m not recording for a major label. I’m getting a kick out of the song and now I open with “Kicking It Down The Road.” It’s kind of fun. The CD’s got some songs on it I think people will get a kick out of. I did another tune on there that T. Graham Brown had in the ’80s that was a No. 1 song for him called “Tell It Like It Used To Be.” My version was different, but he came out with his first and I didn’t get mine out in time. It was going to be my next single recording. His song went to No. 1 and I just canned mine. I found the recording of it and I added it on the CD so I think the people who listen to it will see it’s different. It probably would have been a No. 1 song for me. I don’t know. It would have been 18 instead of 17, but it was one of those things that happened. Fate hands you a deck of cards and you have to play the cards you’re given, so that’s the way it is.
Getting back on the road and coming back to Laughlin…
Gilley: I I sold my theater in Branson so I’m back working the road a little bit and I’m looking forward to coming to Laughlin. I got the Urban Cowboy Band, a seven-piece band and two girl singers. We got some people I’m bringing on to do a little spoof on a couple of things, but I don’t want to give anything away. I will tell you I will have some guests on the show and I think the people will get a kick out of it. I try to keep the show entertaining and interesting and I try to bring a little bit of my life into the music. I say it’s my life in music, but I’m not telling them the full thing I’ve done, but I talk about my two famous cousins, Jimmy and Jerry Lee. I talk about my accident I had back in 2009. I’m walking a little bit better but I’m not playing the keyboard yet. My hands haven’t returned to where I can play the piano. But I’ve improved. My opening statement is, “I just turned 80, I hope I look like I’m 50, and I’m walking like I’m 90.” But I’m singing, according to some of the fans who tell me, I’m singing better than ever so that’s a blessing. As long as my voice holds up, and I can perform the songs properly, and I’ve got a re-release on my 17 that is a remix on what I did back in the early years and I think the performance on the CD is better than ever. So if they pick up a copy of all 17 No. 1 songs they can see it. I rerecorded “Roses,” “Orchid,” “Window Up Above,” “City Nights,” “She’s Pulling Me Back Again,” “The Girls All Get Prettier,” etc., and the recordings are better—and I’ve had people tell me that, so I’m not just saying that. I’m getting a big kick out of doing performances for people and we’re having a great time.
A show highlight…
Gilley: I I tell people at the beginning of the show, I lost my comedian, Joey Riley, a few years ago. He died at 43 years old. We worked together 17 years. I say, “here I am in my 80s, and I’ve survived heart surgery, brain surgery, back surgery, paralysis, accidents, two airplane crashes and now I’m learning to eat 9 Lives cat food. ” I tell them, “I’m going to tell you a couple of corny jokes before the show’s over and the reason I call ‘em corny—when you need to explain the punch line, they’re corny. But I’m going to keep my friend’s spirit alive. I like to keep people guessing. I will do all the No. 1s I can possibly squeeze into a performance and then have the guests I’ve got coming in to perform with me, for the little spoof things I do. I think I’ll show ‘em a good time. Hopefully we’ll have a good turnout. I’m looking forward to coming and playing in Laughlin. I always do.
The Urban Cowboy connection continues…
Gilley: I I still spend 10 months a year in Branson, Missouri. I sold my theater but I’m carrying some of the note on the theater. So they asked me to come back and play in the spring and the fall, and Johnny Lee (who performed “Looking For Love” in the movie that later became a hit song) and are doing the show together. We’re also playing a couple of dates in Austin, and we’re playing Midland next weekend. After that we’re playing a date in Vegas before I come to Laughlin.
The Netflix show “The Ranch” features two more movie alumni, Debra Winger and Barry Corbin, speaking of which…
Gilley: I I’m glad you brought that up. Last time we were in Midland, we sat together and signed autographs for about an hour. He’s a great guy, he played “Uncle Bob” in Urban Cowboy. He’s a great character actor and a really nice person. He’s really down to earth and him and I had a drink together and partied a little bit in Midland and in Ft. Worth when I played down there.
Gilley: I Believe it or not, I’m having more fun now doing what I do than I did back in the day because I’m one of the last still doing it.
It’s not about the fame and the money. It’s about the music. I do the music and the show because I want people to have a great time, so we make it entertaining, interesting and we’re doing what we love to do
I always thought that any time you can do what you love to do and make money to survive, you’re a success—maybe not by industry standards, but I was a success.
I look forward to walking on stage. I’m a workaholic. Music is my passion. Some acts change over the years because they get bored with their music. I keep my songs as close to the recordings as possible. I could make more money if I cut the band and the singers and sang to tracks, but that’s not me. I don’t want to lose that look on stage. That’s the full brunt of what I represent as an entertainer.
The bottom line. I haven’t had a hit since 1986, but here I am in 2016, and the majority of the places I play are either sold out or close to. I’ve played all over the world, met two U.S. Presidents and I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His thoughts on his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis…
Gilley: I Gilley: You know this is crazy, and I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt that Jerry Lee was jealous of my success even though he was a bigger star in rock and roll than I was in country. I know he was always jealous of Elvis—that’s my perception of what Jerry Lee was all about. He thought he was better than anyone else. Of course, he could play the hell out of the piano and he was a hell of a performer. But there was animosity because I finally did something in music and he was shocked.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but up until my first hit in ’74, I was doing a tribute to Jerry Lee. Everyone would come to the club because they couldn’t afford tickets to Jerry Lee’s concerts, so I’d do his songs so they could dance to the music.
Differences between a casino crowd, a county or state fair crowd, and a Gilley’s bar crowd—and which do you prefer?
Gilley: They’re all different. Fairs and festivals are usually in the daytime, so you can’t use video. I like working the showrooms in Nevada. That’s the ultimate for me. The majority of them have the best sound and lights and acoustics. My perfect scenario is the venue with 1,000-1,500 people—not the concerts with 5,000 up to 8,000 that I went through in the ’80s when me and Johnny Lee were the hottest things in country music. I’m having more fun now than when I was having the hits. I’m more relaxed.
Riverside Resort, Don’s Celebrity Theatre
Wednesday-Sunday, March 8-12. 7 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)