He formed his own label, Astro in 1964 and cut an album named after a Lewis success "Down the Line". Re-issued on Paula, the album was a regional hit. The big time, however, continued to elude him although he had a minor hit with "Now I Can Live Again" from the album. At an Astro session he laid down a version of George Morgan's old hit "Room Full of Roses" which attracted airplay locally and was picked up for national release by Hugh Heffner's Playboy label.
It hit No. 1 in the Country charts. After 12 further hits with the label, Playboy was taken over by Epic and Gilley moved there for his most consistent run of album and singles success. He was now performing straight-up piano-led Country material. Gradually, he moved towards a more pop-orientated sound in the 1980s, which brought him further success on not just the Country charts, but also the Pop charts.
Before that, however, he had a string of Country hits throughout the 70s, often revivals like "I Overlooked An Orchid" (Carl Smith - No. 1, 1974), "City Lights" (Bill Anderson - No. 1 1975), "Window Up Above" (George Jones - No. 1 1975), "Bring It On Home" (Sam Cooke - No.
1 1976). His mix of rockabilly, honky tonk and uptown Country provided more hits with "Chains of Love" (No. 9, 1977) "Honky Tonk Memories" (No. 4, 1977) and "Here Comes The Hurt Again" (No.
9,1978). In all, Gilley had 33 Top 10 singles, 17 of which reached No. 1, on the US Country chart between 1974 and 1986. Amongst the biggest hits were "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,"(No.
1) "Overnight Sensation" (No. 7, both 1976), remakes of the Ben E King hit "Stand By Me" and Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" (both No. 1s in 1980). In 1971 he lent his name to the opening the famous country nightclub Gilley's in Pasadena, Texas.
His career received a big boost when both the club and his music featured prominently in the 1980 film "Urban Cowboy". The soundtrack included the Buddy Holly cover which went to No. 1. The club closed in 1989 and the building was heavily damaged by arson later that year.
A new Gilley's club opened in 2003 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And Gilley's Theatre and Diner in Branson saw the singer take up a successful residency in that Missouri city. His most recent successful recording activity was in 1988 when he released "Chasin' Rainbows" on Airborne which produced his last Top 40 single to date when "She Reminded Me Of You" reached No 23 in the Country charts. In July 2009, Gilly suffered a back injury in a fall and was airlifted to Houston for medical treatment but subsequently returned to Branson and performing in his theatre there. He has a Facebook information page on which he sends regular video messages to members. A recent joint biography about the three cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggert and Mickey, called "Unconquered" by J D Davis is a must for any fan of their music, rock n roll, Country and gospel music.
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