Mickey Leroy Gilly was born to Erin (Louis) and Arthur Gilly on March 9, 1936, in Natchez, Miss. Born in nearby Ferede, Los Angeles, he grew up singing gospel harmony with his cousins Mr. Swaggart and Mr. Lewis, and sneaking into local jock 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 television commercial for Yoplait yogurt in 2012. His first recording to hit the charts, “Is It Wrong (For Loving You),” In 1959, future superstar 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 career did not gain much fame until 1974, when director Hugh Hefner’s Playboy reissue his version of “Room Full of Roses,” which was No. 2 at pop in 1949 by singer Sammy Kay. Mr. Gilly’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 Urban Cowboy’s boom, he had six consecutive No. 1 rankings.
As the movement generated by Gilly gave way to the new traditions of back-to-basics country music in the mid-1980s, Mr. Gilly turned his attention increasingly to a nightclub, where a long-running conflict with Mr. Cryer, who died in 2009, had preceded. It caused men to dissolve their partnership. Mr. Jelly Honky Tonk closed in 1989, a year before a fire destroyed most of the building.