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Mickey Gilley, Country Music Star Whose Club Inspired ‘Urban Cowboy,’ Dies at 86


Mickey Leroy Gilley was born to Irene (Lewis) and Arthur Gilley on March 9, 1936, in Natchez, Miss. Raised in nearby Ferriday, La., he grew up singing gospel harmonies along with his cousins Mr. Swaggart and Mr. Lewis, and sneaking into local juke joints with them to listen to blues and honky-tonk music.

Mr. Gilley’s mother bought him a piano when he was 10, shortly before he got here under the boogie-woogie-inspired tutelage of his cousin Jerry. Mr. Gilley wouldn’t begin playing professionally, though, until he was in his 20s, several years after he had moved to Houston to work in the development industry.

He released his first single, “Ooh Wee Baby,” in 1957, only to attend 55 years for it to search out an audience: It ran in a television industrial for Yoplait yogurt in 2012. His first recording to succeed in the charts, “Is It Improper (For Loving You),” in 1959, featured the long run star Kenny Rogers on bass guitar.

Settling in Pasadena within the early ’60s, Mr. Gilley began performing usually on the Nesadel Club, a rough-and-tumble honky-tonk owned by his future business partner, Mr. Cryer. His recording profession, nevertheless, didn’t gain traction until 1974, when Hugh Hefner’s Playboy label rereleased his version of “Room Stuffed with Roses,” which had been a No. 2 pop hit in 1949 for the singer Sammy Kaye. Mr. Gilley’s iteration became a No. 1 country single.

Mr. Gilley subsequently enjoyed a decade at or near the highest of the country charts. At the peak of the Urban Cowboy boom, he had six consecutive No. 1 hits.

Because the movement that Gilley’s had spawned gave solution to the back-to-basics neotraditionalism of mid-80s country music, Mr. Gilley increasingly turned his attention to his nightclub, where protracted conflict with Mr. Cryer, who died in 2009, had previously caused the lads to dissolve their partnership. Mr. Gilley closed the honky-tonk in 1989, a yr before a hearth destroyed much of the constructing.

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