Mickey Gilley — the “Urban Cowboy” country-music star who revolutionized mechanical bulls by putting drunken women on them — will sing free lounge shows in Vegas this week, an unthinkable proposition in our expensive-ticket town.
Gilley not only will perform for free Wednesday-Saturday at his namesake, Gilley’s Saloon inside Treasure Island, he’s staging a seven-piece band and two singers.
“Back in the ’80s, if you played in the lounges and things like that, you got looked down on. But I don’t really care. I want to play where people enjoy themselves and have a good time,” he told me.
Gilley, 77, was a hit machine for years, singing “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” “Room Full of Roses” and a cover of “Stand By Me.” He sang 17 No. 1 hits and 39 Top 10 songs.
His original Gilley’s honky tonk bar inspired the making of John Travolta’s 1980 pop culture-changing movie “Urban Cowboy.”
Gilley’s background was highly unlikely. He grew up in small-town Louisiana with two musical cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis (who invented punk rock by setting his piano on fire), and the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart (who popularized apologizing on TV for having relations with a prostitute).
Gilley is thinking of resurrecting his Gilley’s beer, because “That was fun, to have your name on a beer.”
I told Gilley he should sell a beer can featuring all three of the cousins’ faces. He laughed.
“I don’t think Jimmy would allow anyone to use his face for a beer can. Of course, he’s done a lot worse than that, but I don’t think he’d go for that, haha. But it would be fun.”
Gilley also revolutionized the mechanical bull. Before Gilley’s and “Urban Cowboy” came along, no bars installed them for customer rides.
“Urban Cowboy” was inspired by an Esquire article about Gilley’s.
“I didn’t like the article at first because I thought he was pokin’ fun at country music. But my business partner said, ‘Don’t say anything bad about it, because we might get a film out of it.’
“ ‘Urban Cowboy’ worked great, and it really turned my career upside-down and inside-out,” he said. “Back in the ’80s, I played the Desert Inn sometimes three weeks in a row. I played the Riviera. I played the Aladdin. I played the MGM. If I had the show I’ve got now — with the seven-piece band and two girl singers — I could have still been working Vegas.”
By the way, if you want to hear one of the weirdest behind-the-scenes stories ever, Gilley’s has one from decades ago about his drummer and his one-eyed guitar player.
“My drummer convinced the guitar player he was the devil. He said, ‘The devil wants to see your (false) eye.’ ”
Stupidly, the guitar player handed his false eye to the drummer, who ran off with it and re-emerged by walking off their tour bus backward with his pants down and the guitarist’s eye between his cheeks.
The drummer said to the guitarist, “Here’s lookin’ at you, Henry.”
The guitarist was pretty mad and fought the drummer.
“I can see where he was coming from,” Gilley said.
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Page 3A in the main section on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.