If, to you, the question “Are you a real cowboy” evokes a response of “That depends on what you think a real cowboy is,” then you are likely a fan of the movie Urban Cowboy. I mention this because Mickey Gilley passed away a few weeks back. Hearing that sad news brought forth a flood of memories for me of Gilley’s Club in Pasadena. I played drums there several times in the late 1970s with a c/w group I belonged to. While I never met Mickey Gilley, I did meet his musicians, each of whom was a monster player.
When Urban Cowboy began filming, there was an open call for extras. I, along with hundreds of others, answered that call. I was paid $12 per day for several weeks and never got close to a camera. Others I was with did, however. My sister, my sister-in-law, and my girlfriend-at-the-time were each close enough to make it onto the big screen. Just don’t blink or you will miss them.
As shooting wrapped, a post-production event was held at a farm somewhere near Humble. My c/w group was asked to perform at that wrap party and it was there that the Urban Cowboy experience became especially memorable for me.
The venue was an old farmhouse. The party itself was very informal; nothing was catered. Instead, there was a grocery run and actor Scott Glenn shows up carrying a bag of groceries to make sandwiches. And there was beer - lots and lots of beer.
Aside from John Travolta, who at the time was known for television’s “Welcome Back Kotter” and his dance movies “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” the other cast members were unknown to us. All the actors in the film were at the wrap party, including Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn and Madolyn Smith. Patrick Swayze was also hanging out that day, along with the film’s director, James Bridges.
The entire affair was so much like a scene right out of the movie itself. Someone pulled out a football and started throwing it around, which led to a friendly but entertaining game of touch football in an adjoining open field. There were “Bud” and Sissy” dancing together on the makeshift dancefloor in the dirt right next to a chicken coop. The dance floor remained active all afternoon and everyone enjoyed a relaxing day in the country.
For me, the highlight was when Johnny Lee got up and sang with our band. He borrowed my bandmate’s guitar and we broke into “Lookin’ for Love,” to the crowd’s delight. Pretty cool stuff for a teenager like me.
A sneak premier of the movie was held in Houston for the actors and extras. When the opening scene came onto the screen, the theatre erupted with cheers and applause. What a great experience that was!
To country crooner Mickey Gilley, I would say “Rest in peace, buddy.” And thanks for making the whole Urban Cowboy phenomenon possible.
By the way, do you know an Urban Cowboy’s favorite hotel? The Best Western Inn!
The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Johnny McNally. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.
Johnny McNally is Grimes County’s Best Dressed Businessman advocating for Grimes County and writes a bi-weekly column for the Navasota Examiner.