Revisiting Gilley's and Urban Cowboy — 25 years later

Rachel Graves takes a look back at Gilley’s and Pasadena, on the 25th anniversary of the movie Urban Cowboy:

Twenty-five years ago, the movie Urban Cowboy immortalized Gilley’s and left the world with an indelible image of Houston as a rough, redneck boomtown, flooded with farm boys looking to cash in on the oilfield jobs.

People like Bud, John Travolta’s character, risked their lives scrambling up and down refinery towers during the day, then donned cowboy boots and hats to two-step, throw punches and ride the mechanical bull.


Just like in the movie, the bull’s operators made the ride dangerous.

“Those guys were drinking and throwing people,” said Jim Adkins, another former Gilley rat who now displays the original Gilley’s sign and other memorabilia at his Cowboy Ranch restaurant in Pasadena. “They did that a lot for pure ass meanness.”

“I tried to get ’em not to hurt anybody,” [former Gilley’s co-owner Sherwood] Cryer said in a recent interview. He admitted the bull operators could not resist when “smart asses” rode.

And, as in the movie, there were frequent fights at the club.

Graves includes some fun reminscing about John Travolta:

When Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the story, Cryer lobbied to have it filmed at the club.


Paramount called Cryer to say a “boy” was coming out to see Gilley’s and asked him to pick him up at the airport. Cryer and his friend Bob Claypool, then a Houston Post music critic, took Cryer’s old pickup.

All these “Hollywood folks” got off the plane, Cryer recalled in a recent interview. “Claypool said, ‘Holy s—, you know who that fella is?’ “

Cryer did not, but it was John Travolta, straight off his Saturday Night Fever celebrity. He had been cast as “Bud,” based on the real-life Dew Westbrook.

The stars scrambled to rent a limousine and met Cryer at Gilley’s, where Travolta looked around.

“Can you teach me how to dance country?” he asked.

“I don’t dance with men,” Cryer responded.

Cryer introduced Travolta to [Gilley’s regular Gator] Conley, who showed him the moves on the dance floor — and the bull.

“All that boy had to do was watch,” Conley recalled. “He was a good dancer. Same thing with riding the bull.”

And the story also details the break up between Gilley and Cryer and what happened after the tourists stopped flocking to Gilley’s.

It’s a very fun Sunday morning-read.

RELATED: Gilley’s property to become a middle school (bH)

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About Anne Linehan