Paul Gilley

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Paul Gilley
Paul Gilley.jpg
Background information
Birth nameHerbert Paul Gilley
Born(1929-10-01)October 1, 1929
Maytown, Kentucky, US
DiedJune 16, 1957(1957-06-16) (aged 27)
Morgan County, Kentucky, US
Occupation(s)Lyricist, music promoter
Years active1949–1957

Herbert Paul Gilley (October 1, 1929 – June 16, 1957) was a country music lyricist and promoter from Kentucky. In his lifetime, he was little known as a songwriter, but decades after his death by drowning at age 27, he was identified more widely as likely having written the lyrics to a dozen famous songs including two that were hits for Hank Williams: "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". He may have also written "I Overlooked an Orchid" which was a number 1 country hit in 1974 for Mickey Gilley (no relation).[1][2][3] Other songs that have been attributed to Gilley include "If Teardrops Were Pennies", "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" and "Crazy Arms".[4]

Gilley's contributions to songwriting are not widely known; he is not listed in the Oxford New Encyclopedia of Country Music published by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, nor in Barry McCloud's Definitive Country encyclopedia.[5] However, his hometown declared a Paul Gilley Day in 2012, and Kentucky historian W. Lynn Nickell has written a biography, Paul Gilley: The Ghost Writer in the Sky.[4][6]

Early life[edit]

Gilley was born on a farm in the small town of Maytown, Kentucky, on October 1, 1929, the only child of father McClellan "Clell" Gilley (1889–1963) and mother Nora Alice Gilley (née Phipps, 1890–1958).[7] He grew up a very tall boy, attending high school in nearby Ezel, where he wrote poetry – his friends said he was able to converse in rhyme.[1] At 15, he published a poem in the local newspaper. He enrolled in Hazel Green Academy in Wolfe County, graduating in 1949. During this time, he joined several professional writing associations including the Poetry Society of America.[7]

Because of his 6-foot-9-inch (2.06 m) height, Gilley played basketball in high school. He was listed under "Honorable Mention" on the All-State Basketball Squad in 1944.[8] Starting in 1949, Gilley also played basketball for Morehead State College, and he wrote for the student publications Inkpot and The Trail Blazer.[9]


In 1949, Gilley began promoting bluegrass and country music acts, starting with a performance by the Stanley Brothers in Campton. Gilley apparently sold them his song "A Fallen Star" which was later recorded by Jim Reeves, Conway Twitty and Bill Monroe, though the lyrics were credited to James Joiner.[7] The efforts of Paul Gilley Promotions were mentioned occasionally in Billboard magazine, for instance listing his 1955 clients as Lula Bell Si and her Country Folk, Linville Ball, Paul Hebert and Bob Nash.[10][11] In 1956 he promoted Beverly Bresson.[12]


Gilley was known to write song lyrics in high school. In his first year of college, he wrote an essay titled "Getting a Song Published", warning against the "song shark" who asks for payment from the songwriter. In the Morehead Inkpot, Gilley was credited as the writer of "Cold, Cold Heart", jokingly said to have been inspired by a basketball referee.[9] Decades later, music journalist Chet Flippo wrote in 1981 that Gilley traveled to a Nashville bus station where he met Hank Williams to sell the songs "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Gilley sold the songs outright because the one-time payment to him was higher if he allowed others to take credit.[3] Historian W. Lynn Nickell wrote in 2012 that the bus station encounter was in mid-1950, with Williams curious to meet this young songwriter who had already supplied him with a couple of songs including "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", and that Williams bought "Cold, Cold Heart" at the meeting.[1] Gilley once wrote that it was "not too bad" being uncredited, since "you get paid for the lyrics—sometimes well paid."[7] Gilley was paid in the range of $50 to $400 for each song, equivalent in today's dollars to $530–4,250.[1]

Gilley wrote more lyrics than music, so to create songs he occasionally collaborated with composers. His collaboration with Carter Gibbs produced the song "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."[7] Another composer partner was Frank Kratz who helped with "Satan Can't Hold Me", recorded by Jim Reeves. Kratz recorded "Go Cat Go", a rockabilly song, and he co-wrote "Ooh So Nice", recorded by R&B singer Johnny Adams.[13]


Gilley drowned while swimming in a neighbor's pond on June 16, 1957. He was 27 years old. His protective mother was shattered by the death, and she burned his papers, destroying much of the evidence of his songwriting career.[7] In Billboard magazine, a Dallas music agent wrote to inquire who was handling the Gilley estate, as the agent was still interested in buying two songs written by Gilley and Kratz.[14]


Maytown, Kentucky, declared Paul Gilley Day on June 9, 2012, to honor the songwriter. At the same time, a new biography of Gilley was announced, self-published by historian W. Lynn Nickell as Paul Gilley: The Ghost Writer in the Sky.[4] Nickell had gathered material from a wide range of sources, including handwritten lyric sheets in the possession of the son of Gilley collaborator Carter Gibbs.[7]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Songwriter Paul Gilley". Kentucky Life. Kentucky Educational Television (KET). July 29, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  2. ^ Staff (June 6, 2012). "E.Ky. writer penned two of Hank Sr.'s biggest hits". The Mountain Eagle. Whitesburg, Kentucky.
  3. ^ a b Chet Flippo (1997). Your Cheatin' Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams (revised ed.). Plexo. pp. 7, 130, 150. ISBN 9780859652322.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "New biography on Morgan Co. songwriter Paul Gilley". Appalachian Attitude. WMMT 88.7 Mountain Community Radio. July 2, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  5. ^ Grant Alden (August 26, 2013). "Paul Gilley and why maybe you should have heard of him". No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  6. ^ Staff (March 1, 2012). "Paul Gilley Day set June 9" (PDF). Licking Valley Courier. 101 (20). p. 1.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h John Flavell; George Wolfford (June 11, 2012). "'Watching from above'". The Daily Independent. Ashland, Kentucky.
  8. ^ The Kentucky High School Athlete. Kentucky High School Athletic Association. May 1944. p. 12.
  9. ^ a b c Paul Gilley (Summer 1949). "Getting a Song Published". Inkpot. Vol. 2 no. 4. Morehead State College. pp. 30–33. More information about this issue at Morehead's website.
  10. ^ Bill Sach (March 26, 1955). "Folk Talent and Tunes". Billboard. p. 130. ISSN 0006-2510.
  11. ^ Bill Sach (November 12, 1955). "Folk Talent and Tunes". Billboard. p. 135. ISSN 0006-2510.
  12. ^ Bill Sach (March 3, 1956). "Folk Talent and Tunes". Billboard. p. 72. ISSN 0006-2510.
  13. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Johnny Adams – I Won't Cry: The Complete Ric & Ron Singles 1959–1964". AllMusic. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  14. ^ Bill Sach (September 2, 1957). "Folk Talent and Tunes". Billboard. p. 60. ISSN 0006-2510.
  15. ^ "Song: Just When I Needed You". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  16. ^ "Song: They'll Never Take Her Love from Me". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  17. ^ "Song: I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  18. ^ Staff. "Troy Martin – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  19. ^ Ronnie Pugh; Paul Kingsbury (1999). "Songs They Gave Away". The Journal of Country Music. Country Music Foundation. 13–14.
  20. ^ "Song: Cold, Cold Heart". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  21. ^ "Song: If Teardrops Were Pennies". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  22. ^ Barry Mazor (2015). Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music. Chicago Review Press. p. 239. ISBN 9781613733882.
  23. ^ "Song: Ashes of Love". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  24. ^ Al Campbell. "Slim Willet – Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  25. ^ "Song: Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  26. ^ Horstman, Dorothy (1975). Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy. Nashville, Tennessee: Country Music Foundation Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-915608-19-7.
  27. ^ "Kenny Brown and Marilyn Kaye and the Arkansas Ramblers Crazy Arms PEP 102". YouTube. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  28. ^ Don Cusic (2011). The Cowboy in Country Music: An Historical Survey with Artist Profiles. McFarland. pp. 135–36. ISBN 9780786486052.
  29. ^ "Song: Crazy Arms". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  30. ^ "Song: A Fallen Star". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  31. ^ "Song: When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  32. ^ Staff. "Various Artists – Big D Jamboree". AllMusic. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  33. ^ Staff. "Jim Reeves – Satan Can't Hold Me". AllMusic. Retrieved October 27, 2018.

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