NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Country music icon Mickey Gilley was more than a hitmaker. He played a vital role in bringing the style of country music to a wider audience than ever before. Gilley died this weekend at age 86. Now Gilley’s friends are talking about how he made that impact.
Many downtown visitors have no idea the level of inspiration everything they see has taken from one man. Country music icon Gilley had 17 No. 1 country hits and opened the back of Texas bar Gilley in the 70s.
“I don’t think there would be so many famous bars and restaurants without Gilley’s,” said Lorianne Crook, host and producer of Crook and Chase.
Crook and singer-songwriter Bobby Marquez know all about how Gilley’s would become the setting for John Travolta’s 1980 hit film ‘Urban Cowboy’. The soundtrack featured some of Gilley’s songs, and the whole project started a country/western phenomenon.
“I had friends in New York on TV and radio who got cowboy boots and cowboy hats!” said Crook.
“You had the cowboy hat, you had the jeans, you had the boots,” Marquez said. “Everybody wanted to be a cowboy. Everybody wanted to be a cowboy. It made country music even cooler.”
Gilley’s and the movie even inspired bars everywhere to add mechanical bulls, something you still see downtown.
“You really have to ride the bull or you’re out of country!” laughs Crook. “He never took credit for this Urban Cowboy phenomenon. He said it wasn’t me. All because John Travolta said yes to be the star of the movie.”
Both Marquez and Crook said it was due to the humble nature of someone they knew as a friend.
“I was so honored to know this man,” Crook said. “He was always such a grateful man. It took him a long time to get his first shot. After reaching the heights, he never forgot how difficult it was.”
After Gilley’s death, this is how two people want their friend to be remembered, as a man who had an impact too big to measure but was always there with encouraging words for another songwriter -interpreter.
“He was just a good person,” Marquez said. “My God. We have lost a country music legend who will be missed for a long, long time.”