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The Roy Faires Collection, no. 55 - The Real Urban Cowboy (1980)

Austin History Center

Sound | 1980

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  •  Feature on Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, setting of the hit film Urban Cowboy (1980) 
  •  Actor John Travolta makes a promotional appearance at Gilley’s 
  •  Ken Stabler, quarterback for the Houston Oilers, makes an appearance at Moe and Joe’s 
  •  Stabler joins country music duo Moe Bundy and Joe Stampley for a performance of their hit song, “Just Good Ol’ Boys” 
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This news story from a Big 2 News broadcast for Houston’s KPRC-TV features reporter Ron Tank visiting Houston-area country music bars Gilley’s Club, Johnny Lee’s, and Moe and Joe’s. All three honky-tonks try to take advantage of the success of Urban Cowboy (1980), which was shot at Gilley’s in Pasadena. Ken Stabler, the new quarterback for the Houston Oilers, makes an appearance at Moe and Joe’s, even joining the country music duo Moe Bundy and Joe Stampley in a performance of one of their hits.
“You a real cowboy?” Urban Cowboy is a 1980 boot-scootin’ Texas film directed by James Bridges. Starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, the film follows the story of a country boy named Bud (played by Travolta) and his venture into Houston’s world of nightlife, girls, and honky tonk. Bridges and Aaron Latham wrote the screenplay after Latham wrote an Esquire article documenting Gilley’s famous honky tonk in Pasadena, TX. Owned and operated by country & western singer-songwriter Mickey Gilley, the 48,000 square foot nightclub was considered to be the largest in the world in terms of available space to patrons at the time. In the movie, Bud spends his nights at the great dancehall, riding mechanical bulls and two-stepping his way in and out of love. In addition to the thriving music scene, the film captures other aspects of the urban landscape of Texas. Bridges offers audiences a glimpse into state’s oil industry, as well as prison rodeos, a tradition that was held at the Texas State Prison in Huntsville from 1931 to 1986. 
Though not as successful as Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy still grossed almost $47 million in the United States alone and sparked a country & western craze across America. The movie’s hit soundtrack became the U.S. Billboard Top Country Album in 1980, and mechanical bulls began to replace fading disco balls. The film was even adapted into a Broadway musical in 2003. While Gilley’s experienced a surge of patronage after the film’s release, the nightclub eventually closed its doors in 1989. The building later fell victim to arson in 1990.