Music and Movies / The Urban Cowboy

The Urban Cowboy

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Autor:  anton  06 November 2010
Tags:  Cowboy
Words: 1500   |   Pages: 6
Views: 340

Picture the scene; a girl and guy dressed to the nines in tight wranglers, belt buckles, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats. Now put them on a dance floor in a dance hall filled with couples dressed in their Sunday best, their wranglers. Despite the blasting country music the bell of the mechanical bull can still be heard on the dance floor. This scene is typical to any run down dance hall across Texas, what makes it unique is the guy and girl. The girl, Sissy asks the guy “Are you a real cowboy?” The guy, Bud responds “Depends on what you think a real cowboy is.” Sissy asks Bud, “Can you two step?” Bud responds “Course.” Sissy challenges Bud, “Wanna prove it?” This scene is one of the many things that set the dance hall Gilley’s apart from any other dance hall in Texas, or the United States. Gilley’s, the small honky-tonk bar located in an even smaller town named Pasadena, became one of the most famous honky-tonk bars in the eighties. Pasadena, a town mostly known for its smell due to the immense amount of chemical plants, was not exactly called a musical haven. But in the eighties Pasadena was filled with some of country music’s most famous. Wonder why musicians would leave Nashville to flock to the redneck town of Pasadena, its simple Gilley’s. Gilley’s was able to create an image of the Urban Cowboy, attract country stars from across the nation, and build a culture around country music that would live on longer than the bar itself. The small bar known as Gilley’s would be able to transform the way America saw the cowboy hat and the cowboy.

The honky-tonk bar Gilley’s was popular for many things besides the movie Urban Cowboy. Gilley’s was popular for the artists it attracted, its archive of music, its radio show and its mechanical bull. Mickey Gilley and Sherwood Cryer are credited with opening Gilley’s in 1977 and helped create the Urban Cowboy. In its start Gilley’s was made popular due to the new type of music that was taking shape in the 1970’s. Everyone from Freddy Fender to Waylon Jennings to George Strait preformed at Gilley’s, the group of artists that played there made up the who’s who of country music. Cryer accounts one time when Willie Nelson preformed at Gilley’s, "he had his mother Audrey with him," remembers Cryer, "and since the place wasn't air-conditioned, and it was hot, we put him in the beer vault, and he got drunk on Pearl beer. Boy, his momma whupped his ass bad over his gettin' drunk." Gilley’s was unique it its own ways, so unique country music stars were willing to play without air condition.

One reason in which the world began to learn of Gilley’s was the radio show that was hosted at Gilley’s called “Live From Gilley’s.” The radio station broadcasted over five hundred stations nationwide and was heard round the world due to the Armed Force Radio which also aired the show for its troops (Manna). Jim Duncan a the disc jockey for “Live From Gilley’s” claimed that, “at Gilley's, country took on a modern feel and inspired the crossover country artist. Gilley's was where that new music was heard and showcased.” It is doubtful that the little honky-tonk bar would have ever reached its fame, without the national radio show “Live from Gilley’s.” Another unique part of Gilley’s is the massive archive of recordings of artists who played there. Mickey had recorded every artists that ever played at Gilley’s, making the archive one of the most unique mixes of country music that one person would be lucky enough to have (Manna). Being kicked off the mechanical bull was only part of the charm of Gilley’s. The mechanical bull was put in as a training tool for cowboys, but mostly it was used by the guys to impress the girls. Gilley’s started with one mechanical bull, but after the movie Urban Cowboy they put in two more and even a mechanical horse. There were plenty of women that were brave enough to ride the bull but it was the men who saw it as a contest. The mechanical bull was what kept men coming back to Gilley’s every night of the week. In 1989 Gilley’s burned down forever leaving its mark on Pasadena, and leaving Mickey Gilley a prized music archive (Manna).

The honky-tonk bar Gilley’s was able to help Mickey Gilley enhance his career, due to the fact that he was able to create a following by constantly playing at Gilley’s and being able to broadcast his songs (Gary). Mickey Gilley was not just the owner of the nightclub Gilley’s; he was also a musician that worked hard to make it big in the music industry. Gilley patterned his music career after that of his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, who would often play at Gilley’s. Other contributors to Mickey’s sound were Charlie Rich and Ronnie Milsap (Erlewine). Mickey was able to achieve his dream when his song “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” which won the CMA Song of the Year in 1976.

The release of the movie Urban Cowboy was the final step in helping to create the Gilley’s culture. Leading up to the release of the movie Urban Cowboy, the media was filled with all images of Lone Star, due to ZZ Top, Waylon Jennings, and the Dallas Cowboys. The buzz around Texas only increased when the movie Urban Cowboy hit the movie theaters (Gray). The man to thank for the movie Urban Cowboy, is Aaron Latham, who wrote a cover story for Esquire magazine titled “"The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America's Search for True Grit" in September 1978. Latham wrote about the lives of the men and women who came to Gilley’s every night and even some of those who fell in love. Immediately after the issue hit the news stands there were plans to make a movie about a young couple who fell in love, the stars of the movie would be John Travolta and Debra Winger (Gray). And the characters of Bud and Sissy were born. The movie was filled with country dancing, country music, and country style all set in a suburban town outside of Houston, Pasadena. Bud and Sissy’s romance was filled with violence, stubbornness and of course bull riding. While the movie Urban Cowboy did not help the horrible stereotypes of cowboys, it sure did make it popular to both cowboys and non-cowboys. Urban Cowboy not only broadened the country audience and country music but set off lifestyle, dance and fashion trends all over the world; honky-tonks popped up from Los Angeles to New York (Manna). While the movie is not considered to be one of the greatest films of the eighties, it’s the impact it had on country music that makes it so memorable.

In the small town of Pasadena there was a culture created around Gilley’s that spread across the world. The Gilley’s culture was cultivated in Pasadena; one lasting sign of this is the Gilley’s bumper sticker that was placed on everyone’s trucks that went to Gilley’s. To this day there are still trucks that have the bumper sticker. After the release of the movie the memorable for Gilley’s was unlimited and accessible across the nation.

Gilley’s is known for many things; its artists, its mechanical bulls, its love stories, its radio station, Urban Cowboy and Mickey Gilley himself. But Gilley’s is most known for taking the image of the Urban Cowboy and spreading it across a nation. And for the first time people weren’t looking down at you for being country, instead they were trying to copy you. The culture of Gilley’s is something unique to Texas, that can never be replicated and still lives on nearly seventeen years after Gilley’s burned down. Mickey Gilley said it best himself when he reflected on the time he had at Gilley’s, “Yes, Gilley's was about music, but it was mostly about people. Gilley's was a small town in a big city. It was a place to lose yourself, or find a partner. Gilley's was about lookin' for love and not caring if it was the wrong place. For country music, Gilley's was the right place at the right time.” Gilley’s will always hold a place in the history of not only country music but also Texas.

Works Cited

Erlewine, Stephen. “Biography of Mickey Gilley.” All Music Guide.

Gary, Christopher. “The Mother of All Texas Honky-Tonks.” The Austin Chronicle, Oct. 1999.

Manna, Sal. “Biography of Gilley’s”

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