Mickey Gilley & Johnny Lee at Stafford Centre, 6/25/2014
Essentially Gilley narrated his own career for two hours. He's still unable to play the piano (or play golf, he mentioned), but his voice is still strong and his wits are still sharp. Gilley's rapid-fire stage patter often had a real nervous edge to it, but when he was telling stories (jabs, really) about the misadventures of his cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart or reminiscing about opening shows for Loretta Lynn in California or getting advice from Conway Twitty, who told him that "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time" would never be a hit. But it was, and later on led to a video featuring a lot of dudes in drag.
Gilley seemed to relish showing clips like that, or his sweep of the 1977 Academy of Country Music awards, or his appearances on The Dukes of Hazzard and Fantasy Island. He had a lot of ground to cover - his career dates back to 1957, he said, and Kenny Rogers played bass on his 1961 swamp-pop single "Lonely Wine." Another early tune, "Ooh Wee Baby," was all but forgotten about until Yoplait yogurt wanted to pay him $55K to put it in a commercial.
Those sorts of stories, interspersed with songs like Ray Price's "City Lights"; George Jones' "The Window Up Above"; Gilley's first national hit "Room Full of Roses," 40 years old this year; "Bring It On Home," (his ACM-winning 1976 Sam Cooke cover; a duet with Ray Charles on "You Don't Know Me"; and easily a couple of dozen more, made for both an entertaining and instructive evening. Even the songs Gilley said he didn't remember originally recording, such as "Easy Come, Hard to Go," were present and accounted for.
The set could have been half an hour shorter without losing any momentum, and tacking on a super-compressed segment of Urban Cowboy songs at the end made sense but still felt a little awkward in practice. Especially when Lee was pushed onstage with a bouquet of yellow roses he later waved toward Gilley's crotchular area.
Like Urban Cowboy itself, no one should ever mistake showbiz schtick like that for high art. But if you grew up in this area, there's still something about it that strikes really close to home. This is our culture, and for better or worse, it's better appreciated watching a couple of old guys cutting up onstage than standing in some stuffy museum.
Personal Bias: Amateur Gilley-phile. Always been fascinated with the Urban Cowboy saga, and think it's one of the very best chapters of Southeast Texas mythology.
The Crowd: Plenty of Gilley's alumni. Lots of teased hair.
Overheard In the Crowd: "It is cold in here...I know...it's freezing."
Random Notebook Dump: ...and an Obama joke. Almost made it out of here without that happening.
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