Concert review

Urban Cowboys not riding out to pasture

Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee kick it up at Austin County Fair

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Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee may be old men, but they still know how to party and sing good old country music.

They proved it Friday night during their Urban Cowboy Reunion concert at the Austin County Fair. Although a radical drop in temperature that night may have kept the crowds down, there were hot times on the stage at the Austin County Fairgrounds as the old guys showed they still have what it takes.

“We’ve got a seven-piece band and two girl singers,” Gilley said in an interview prior to the concert. “It’s me and Johnny Lee … We’ve got close to 30 number one songs between us.”

The two-hour show was a tour across time in the careers of Lee, 73, and Gilley, 83, whose collaboration on the hit movie and accompanying soundtrack “Urban Cowboy” became a country-pop crossover sensation in 1980.

Gilley is still as outspoken and flamboyant as ever, traits he shares with his cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. Although crippled by several accidents and unable to play instruments, Gilley still mimed movements with his piano player and frolicked with “girl singers” Stephanie Hall and Gina Holliday. Even Lee, who needed to be escorted on and off the stage, managed to stand and dance a couple short jigs. The two were far more animated than the much younger John Michael Montgomery, who took the stage Saturday night.

Between a phone interview and a visit in his tour bus with shots of Crown whiskey and baseball playoffs on the TV, Gilley told numerous stories of his crazy career.

“When I jumped into the music industry, I had been working construction in Houston,” he said.

He recorded his first song in 1957. “It was bad,” he said. “It took me 17 years after that before I had a hit.”

He said he was inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis to get into music. He said he should have listened to his other cousin instead.

“He (Swaggart) made more money than me and Jerry Lee combined,” Gilley said with a laugh.

Gilley loves to laugh and jokes frequently. When talking about his hit song “The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” he called it a classic.

“It’s a true story!” he said.

He opened Gilley’s nightclub in Pasadena, Texas, in 1971.

“It became a success about overnight,” he said.

A turning point in his career came when Conway Twitty played at Gilley’s.

“Two weeks after Twitty played at the club I started touring on the road,” he said.

He started getting hits and growing in popularity, but everything changed in 1980 with “Urban Cowboy,” the movie starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

“After ‘Urban Cowboy’ came out in 1980 I got to play all the casinos in Vegas. I got to play for two presidents – Reagan and Bush,” he said.

Then came guest appearances on various television shows, including “CHiPS,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Fantasy Island” and others.

His recording career waned in the 1980s, but he always kept busy in the industry. Then, about three years ago, he got a call to fill in for Mel Tillis at the Clay Cooper Theater in Branson, Mo. Gilley called up Lee to see if he would join him. He did, and they had so much fun they took their act on the road.

“People are really, really excited about it,” he said. “It feels really comfortable, pretty good being on the road again,” he said.

The show begins with Lee doing some of his hit songs. Then he leaves and Gilley comes on and does his hits. Then Lee joins him on stage and the two do a raucous romp (or as raucous as a couple old geezers can get) through the Urban Cowboy hits, concluding with Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love (in all the wrong places).”

It’s a fun show packed with great memories and greater music. Gilley and Lee are proof that age is just a number and that you can be as young as you want to be with a song in your heart and an audience to hear it.

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