Born in 1936 in Natchez, Mississippi, Mickey Gilley became one of country music's leading artists from 1974 up to the late '80s, fashioning over thirty Top 10 singles and enjoying seventeen #1 hits during that period. Though many remember Gilley primarily for his involvement with the Pasadena, Texas club which bore his name - and which was featured prominently in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy - he was a honky-tonk fixture on the rough and lively Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast club circuit from the late '50s onward. First cousin of both Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis and disgraced evangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart, Gilley was (and remains) a premier piano pounder.

Tracks

Keepin' On - Mickey Gilley

Mickey Gilley

MP3 Country, Pop Released by Demon S&C

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Notes on the Recordings

Mickey Gilley came well prepared for these sessions with Huey Meaux which represent his earliest available recordings. As it's sometimes said, "this wasn't his first rodeo". In addition to being a popular fixture on the Houston club scene, Gilley had already recorded for several tiny local labels as well as Paula Records, a regional imprint operating in Shreveport.

It's fascinating to listen to Gilley display flashes of the later brilliance which flared from his mid-'70s discovery onward. "Love Fever", "Bring My Baby Back To Me", "Still Care About You", "I'm Living In A World of My Own" and "Lonely, Lonely Man" showcase a fine singer still honing his style, verging into the crooning territory he later mastered. Listeners will hear him exploring his upper reaches in a style he later abandoned for more mid range and lower register vocals.

Not much is known about the sessions and more questions than answers are available from the Crazy Cajun archives. It would be nice to know, for instance, who is backing Mickey and exactly when the sides were cut. Or why some of the tracks were recorded with just Mickey's piano and a drummer. And, though we know Mickey wrote at least one of the tunes, "Now That I Have You", we don't know how many of the others he penned. During his years of stardom Gilley relied exclusively on cover tunes or new songs written for him, thus the presence of his own compositions adds a new element to these historic cuts.
There's a snippet of studio chatter present just before "Now That I Have You", a moment in time which allows the listener to hear producer Huey Meaux chatting with Mickey, then formally announce the selection.

During his years of stardom Gilley's vocals snared the spotlight and drew attention from his extraordinary piano playing, developed in his early years from countless hours playing with his cousins. These early recordings restore the focus so you can better appreciate Mickey's keyboard skills, complete with Lewis-like flourishes on such items as "Love Fever", "Whole Lot of Twistin' Going On" and the alternate take of "Dreaming of You' which closes this set.

Gilley's undeniable ability shines through clearly on the cover songs here. He turns in perfectly credible versions of such past hits as "Fraulein", "I Miss You So" and "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)", though the latter suffers from some tape distortion. This is balanced, however, by a truly wicked piano ride by Mickey. His homage to Jerry Lee, "Whole Lot of Twistin' Going On", is masterful, full of vocal licks and piano rips reminiscent of his famed cousin.

Most of the songs concern lost love, subject matter that fits into the classic country oeuvre and, in this respect, the songwriting is similar to the material found in Moe Bandy's Crazy Cajun recordings, also newly released by Edsel.

Some of the tunes, however, are poignant reminders of the simpler lives we all used to lead, times when we picked up pony-tailed girls at the drive-in movie and cried when we failed a grade in school. Now drive-ins have all but disappeared and any teacher who fails someone must first consider the probability of whether or not that student will return to school packing a pistol.

So, think happily of earlier, less complicated times as you enjoy these slices of sonic history, these eighteen trips back in time roughly thirty years. The Crazy Cajun recordings are a touchstone to understanding how Mickey Gilley developed the style which later brought him international renown.

~John Lomax III, September 1998