Mickey Leroy Gilley was born to Irene (Lewis) and Arthur Gilley on March 9, 1936 in Natchez, Miss. Growing up in nearby Ferriday, La., He grew up singing gospel harmonies with his cousins Mr. Swaggart and Mr. Lewis, and sneaking with them to local juke restaurants to hear blues and honky-tonk music.
Mr. Gilley’s mother bought him a piano when he was 10, shortly before he came under the care of his cousin Jerry inspired by boogie-woogie. Mr. Gilley did not start playing professionally, however, until he was in his 20s, a few years after moving to Houston to work in the construction industry.
He released his first single, “Ooh Wee Baby”, in 1957, just to wait 55 years to find an audience: it was featured in a television commercial for Yoplait Yogurt 2012. His first record to hit the charts, “Is It Wrong ( For Loving You) ”, in 1959, represented the future star of Kenny Rogers on bass guitar.
Settling in Pasadena in the early ’60s, Mr. Gilley began performing regularly at the Nesadel Club, a rough honky-tonka owned by his future business partner, Mr. Cryer. His recording career, however, did not become popular until 1974, when Hugh Hefner’s Playboy re-released his version of “Room Full of Roses”, which in 1949 was the No. 2 pop hit for singer Sammy Kaye. Mr. Gilley’s iteration became the number 1 country single.
Mr. Gilley has since enjoyed a decade at or near the top of the country charts. At the height of the boom, Urban Cowboy had six consecutive No. 1 goals.
As the Gilley movement gave way to neo-traditionalism returning to the basics of country music in the mid-1980s, Mr. Gilley increasingly turned his attention to his nightclub, which had previously been embroiled in a long-running conflict with Mr. Cryer, who died. In 2009, it caused men to end their partnership. Mr. Gilley closed the honky-tonk in 1989, a year before a fire destroyed much of the building.