Mickey Gilley Still Out There at 78
Country music star Mickey Gilley is too busy to think about retiring.
Still out there at 78, Gilley has to keep up with a full road show schedule, perform several times a year at his theater in Branson, Mo., look after his restaurant next door to the theater and ride herd on any or all of his five “Gilley’s” night clubs around the country.
Occasionally, he may stop by for a glance at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And then there are his four children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“When people ask me when I am going to retire, I tell them I plan to follow George Jones and Ray Price into the grave,” he said from his theater in Branson. “I have no reason to retire. I have too many things working for me.”
Despite having a full plate, Gilley, along with his seven-piece band and two backup singers, will serve up a dish of his iconic music and personal anecdotes at 6 p.m. Saturday on the Wheeling Jamboree show the Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack.
“I like to play the casinos,” he said. “I tell my audience I am there to visit my money.”
He is no stranger to Wheeling.
“I played the WWVA radio show quite a few times over the years” he said. “It was quite a thrill. I fondly remember all those bus loads of Canadians who came to Wheeling for the shows.
“I quit going there after ‘Urban Cowboy’ came out because my price went up: but I still played Jamboree In The Hills for a few years.”
Gilley’s Club, the landmark nightclub he helped create in 1971 in Pasedena, Texas, became the sensation of the era. Billed as “the world’s largest honky-tonk,” it was a launching pad for some of country music’s biggest stars and the dominating force behind the “Urban Cowboy” craze that swept the country in the early ’80s, following the release of the John Travolta movie filmed there.
Gilley’s storied career almost came to a tragic end in 1979.
“I was helping a friend move a sofa,” he said. “I was walking backward, stepped off the sidewalk and fell 18 inches. I landed on the back of my neck-the sofa landed on me.”
He woke up in an intensive care unit to learn he had crushed four vertebrae and was paralyzed from the neck down.
“I found out later, that the doctors thought I would never walk again; but I was up and walking and returned to the stage within a year,” Gilley said.
He said he hopes to be on the golf course within another year and get back on piano.
“My hands still feel cold sometimes, but I am improving,” he said.
As a boy in Ferriday, La., Gilley grew up close to two famous cousins, rocker Jerry Lee and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
“We are all in our 70s now, but I am the youngest and the best looking,” he quipped. “I always joke that Jimmy Swaggart made more money then I and Jerry Lee combined.”
Gilley credits much of his personal appearance career to the skills he honed after he bought his own theater in Branson in 1989. He still performs a few times a year at the Mickey Gilley Family Theatre.
“Before that, I was a honky tonk piano player,” he said. “Now I am more of an entertainer.”
In all, Gilley has achieved a remarkable 39 Top 10 country hits, with 17 of those songs reaching the No. 1 spot on the country charts.
In 1976, he swept the ACM Awards, hauling home trophies for Entertainer of the Year, Top Male Vocalist, Song of the Year, Single of the Year and Album of the Year. He was ranked among the top 50 country music hitmakers in the 1989 book written by record research historian Joel Whitburn.
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.”
“I have had a tremendous ride in my life,” he said. “They have given me 17 No. 1 songs.”