Country music star Randy Travis gave a public farewell to friend and colleague Mickey Gilley this week via Twitter. Travis captioned the tweet simply by saying “our kind thoughts and gentle prayers are sent to Cindy and the entire family, with love,” before signing his name. He then included a link to a 1986 performance and a few paragraphs summing up his relationship with the late musician and businessman who many credit for starting the “Urban Cowboy” movement of the late 1970s.
“When the roll was called up yonder the other day, we were all surprised that Mickey Gilley’s name was on it; but, I bet Mickey was ready,” the post began. “He was just coming off the road, and power slid into Heaven’s gate — that’s the way he lived his life.”
Travis is right. Gilley lived his life ahead of the pack, closest to the action. He recorded 17 No. 1 hits, including “Room Full of Roses” (his first in 1974) and “You Don’t Know Me,” among many others. Named the ACM Entertainer of the Year in 1976, Gilley also opened theaters, venues, and music clubs across the South. As the co-owner of Gilley’s, the sprawling Texas club the defined the blockbuster 1980 film Urban Cowboy, Gilley brought country attitude to the mainstream. The film — and Gilley’s club — helped popularize a previously-niche country music market for the national American audience.
Randy Travis owes Mickey Gilley a debt of gratitude for popularizing country music ahead of the Neo-Traditionalists movement of the 1980s
“Mickey not only left his fingerprint on the world of music, music venues, and the big screen…he left a piece of himself in each of our hearts ‘at closing time,’” Travis’ post continued. “As his room in Heaven fills with roses, our sadness on Earth is overshadowed by our gratitude for the life and the legacy left behind by out friend, Mickey Gilley. We hope that piano up there is well tuned and ready to go!”
Travis then reminisced about how much he loved playing at Mickey’s club. “I loved covering this ol’ Texas boy George Strait’s tune at Gilley’s in 1986 [The Chair]. I always loved playing there.”
Travis, himself, likely benefitted most from Gilley’s ascension as a nationally-recognized country music club. Outsider’s Jim Casey says “electric guitars, keyboards, and horns found their way into country arrangements because of the Urban Cowboy Movement. And country hits frequently found their way onto pop radio.
“Of course, the sub-genre eventually gave way to the Neo-Traditionalists of the mid-1980s with George Strait, Randy Travis, and more.”
Johnny Lee, Gilley’s opening act from their time on the road together in the 1970s, said losing his friend and mentor “feels like a bad dream.”
“My heart will forever break over the loss of my dear friend Mickey Gilley,” said Johnny Lee. “He believed in me when no one else did. Losing Gilley feels like a bad dream and sadly it’s not. He loved his fans more than anything in the world and taught me everything I needed to know about country music.”