Mickey Leroy Gilly was born on March 9, 1936 in Natchez, Missouri to parents Erin (Louis) and Arthur Gilly. Born in nearby Ferede, Los Angeles, he grew up singing gospel harmony with his cousins Mr. Swaggart and Mr. Lewis, and sneaking into local juke joints with them to hear blues and honky-tonk.
Mr. Jelli’s mother bought him a piano when he was ten years old, shortly before he came under the tutelage of his choreographer-inspired cousin Jerry. Mr. Geely did not begin playing professionally, until he reached his twenties, several years after moving to Houston to work in the construction industry.
He released his first single, “Ooh Wee Baby” in 1957, and waited 55 years to find an audience: He was featured in a TV ad for Yoplait yogurt in 2012. His first recording to hit the charts, “Is It Wrong (For Loving You)” (1959), future star Kenny Rogers appeared on bass guitar.
Settling in Pasadena in the early 1960s, Mr. Gilly began performing regularly at the Nesdale Club, the rough and tumble honky tonk owned by his future business partner, Mr. Cryer. However, his recording career didn’t gain any traction until 1974, when Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy” renamed his version of “Room Full of Roses,” which was No. 2 at pop in 1949 for Sammy Kaye and orchestra. Mr. Jelly’s iteration became #1 in the country’s singles.
After that, Mr. Gilly enjoyed a decade at or near the top of the country charts. At the height of the urban cowboy boom, he had six consecutive #1 ranks.
As the movement generated by Gilly gave way to the traditional back-to-basics of country music in the mid-1980s, Mr. Gilley increasingly turned his attention to a nightclub, where a long-running conflict with Mr. Cryer, who died in 2009, had previously caused the dissolution of men for their partnership. Mr. Jelly Honky Tonk closed in 1989, a year before a fire destroyed most of the building.
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