At 83, Mickey Gilley is still a road warrior.
In fact, with more than 150 dates a year, he calls himself a professional bus rider.
“I’ve got a seven-piece band with me on tour,” he says. “We travel around on an old bus, and we look like a bunch of gypsies.”
Gilley’s been in the business for a long time.
Over the course of his career, he’s amassed 39 top 10 hits, including 17 that rose to No. 1.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
He started his dream of being a musician in 1957 and played any gigs he could get.
He’s the cousin of musicians Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl McVoy, as well as pastors Jim Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart.
“It was difficult,” he says of his career. “My cousin is Jerry Lee Lewis, and he was successful. I was trying to make a statement of my own. If I would have known, I would have followed Jimmy. He’s made more money than both Jerry Lee Lewis and myself.”
It took him 17 years to have a hit song. And the struggle is what ultimately outlined the journey for his decadeslong career.
“If I would have known it was going to take that long, I would have thought of something different to do with my life,” he says. “The truth is, I’ve always enjoyed being in front of people and performing. It makes them happy, and it makes me happy.”
By 1980, Gilley had a resurgence in his career, thanks to his rendition of “Stand by Me” on the soundtrack of “Urban Cowboy.”
With this No. 1 hit, Gilley was able to cross over to pop music and “Stand by Me” has become one of his signature songs.
A string of six No. 1’s on the country charts followed the success of “Urban Cowboy.” Those include “True Love Ways,” “A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight),” “You Don’t Know Me” and “Lonely Nights.”
Gilley is currently on the road with 72-year-old Johnny Lee on the “Urban Cowboy Reunion” tour, which makes a stop at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino on Saturday, April 6.
“Johnny and I enjoy each other’s company on the road,” he says. “We have so many hits that we have to really be aware of what we’re going to play. It’s the only thing we’ve done in our life, and being on stage feels like second nature. I’ll be doing this until I’m six feet in the ground.”