By the Way

Mickey Gilley on 46 years of ‘Urban Cowboy’ and that song from Gulfport

Almost 50 years later, Mickey Gilley is still the original “Urban Cowboy.”
Almost 50 years later, Mickey Gilley is still the original “Urban Cowboy.” Courtesy

When I was a kid — I’m guessing I was probably 9 or so — the Clark family would load up in the 1978 camel metallic (i.e., gold) Monte Carlo and make the 30-minute trip to Tupelo as soon as services were over at the Friendship Baptist Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

We would go to the “Sears mall” and eat at Morrison’s — I would always be fancy and get the fried fish almondine and the coconut pie — and then when we would walk next door to the mall’s movie theater. My daddy may not have been much on the preaching and soul-saving, but he did enjoy a good meal at Morrison’s and a trip the movies.

It was during the summer of 1980 that we spent a hot Sunday afternoon watching “Urban Cowboy.”

My life was forever changed.

Although I was already a fan of country music, (all music, really) “Urban Cowboy” was it for me. I asked my parents to buy me a cowboy hat with a big feather band and boots and lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levi’s — the essentials.

The soundtrack had songs by the Eagles and Boz Scaggs and the Charlie Daniels Band.

It also had Johnny Lee’s “Looking For Love,” which I would later find out was written by two elementary school teachers from Gulfport.

The Urban Cowboy

And then there was Mickey Gilley. He was and will always be the original Urban Cowboy.

“I had a hit with ‘Room Full of Roses’ and I started opening shows for Conway Twitty and I thought that was a big part of my career, but it was nothing compared to when John Travolta did the ‘Urban Cowboy.’ When he did that, it launched me and Johnny Lee into the stratosphere — I got to tour all over the world and I got to play for three presidents and I got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“It was quite a ride for me.”

Gilley, who will performing Saturday at 8 p.m. at the IP Casino Resort, had a smash hit with “Stand By Me” on the film’s soundtrack. The song was originally made famous by Ben E. King.

“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do that song because I was so familiar with Ben E. King’s version,” he said.

What about that song from Gulfport?

And then there’s “Looking for Love,” which was written by then-Gulfport school teachers Wanda Mallette and Patti Ryan. Although Johnny Lee tells one story about the song, Gilley has a different memory.

“I know what Johnny Lee told you — he found that song after looking through boxes and boxes of tapes,” he said. “Well, Johnny Lee is full of s----. (’Urban Cowboy’ music supervisor) Becky Shargo brought him that song.”

While the two old friends may have different memories about the song’s discovery, neither can deny how popular it became.

“I didn’t hear it until we went to the premiere of the movie,” Gilley said. “I told everybody, ‘Johnny Lee’s got a smash hit,’ and I was right because it took off and went gangbusters — but my favorite song on the soundtrack was ‘Look What You’ve Done to Me’ by Boz Scaggs.”

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