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Sherwood Cryer (September 2, 1927 – August 17, 2009) was a Pasadena, Texas-based entrepreneur. He attained fame as the owner and operator of the famous country-western nightclub Gilley's, an enormous honky tonk that was the central setting of the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta.
Charles Sherwood Cryer was from Diboll East Texas. Prior to his career he was in World War II in the Air Force. He worked for Shell Oil as a welder for a few years after the War. He was from Pasadena and Gilley's was located on Spencer highway in Pasadena. It was named after singer Mickey Gilley. Cryer met Gilley singing in another bar and invited him to reopen his other club with Gilley being co-partner. Mickey Gilley requested the club be remodeled. They soon became partners when Cryer made the club into Gilley's approval. Gilley, the cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, was playing six nights a week. The club brought entertainers like Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, Crystal Gayle, Hank Williams, Jr., Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Johnny Lee, Conway Twitty, Keith Whitley and hundreds more. He managed the club's needs until Gilley wanted to end their partnership. It was late 1989 the club closed down and the court battle began. Cryer did not want to lose anything so he tried to come up with documentation showing their partnership was still valid. It wasn't good enough for the court. On July 5, 1990 an Arson fire attack destroyed the main building. Several fingers pointed to Cryer but he denied this and acted on the most difficult part of his life. Cryer filed for bankruptcy after a long court battle with Gilley. He was mayor of the city of Pasadena for 4 years before deciding to leave office and focus on his court issues.
Gilley's became vastly successful, through Cryer's innovation the mechanical bull. It featured a scene in the Urban Cowboy movie when John Travolta rode the bull without being thrown from the machine. The Mechanical Bull was Cryer's fortune, it is copy written in his name. After the movie's release the bar remained even more popular launching its own beer brand, radio show, and recording studio. The huge night club has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
During the 1980s you couldn't drive through Houston without seeing a Gilley's bumper sticker on people's car. Fans would steal tiles from the acoustical ceiling because they were stamped with the club's logo. After The Urban Cowboy movie Gilley's added an indoor rodeo arena. Eventually, the night club increased in size to an incredible 48,000 square feet (4,500 m2) capable of holding 6,000 people. There was a Texas-size bar and huge Texas-size dance floors. Gilley's was so big that you could not see from one end of the club to the other. Everywhere you looked Gilley's had fun things happening on the property. Open seven nights a week 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. The club had dozens of pool tables, many pinball machines punching bag games. Strong-arm wrestling games. There were mechanical bulls, mechanical horses, mechanical calfs. The mattresses that supported the fall from the bull was supplied by Cryer. He would ride around Pasadena with various tips for mattresses that were being thrown out. Gilley's had staged everything from Dolly Parton look-alike contests to tricycle races. The cowboys looked so funny trying to ride the tricycles but they would fall off and make everyone laugh. It was the mechanical bull that made the cowboys come in every night. Crystal Gale was a featured entertainer at the club with hundreds other country singers. Cryer and Gilley thought there would be a lot of lawsuits but there were none. With a sign bearing "Ride At Your Own Risk" they did just that. Men would come down and get on to impress their girls. But When It finally threw them they would get back on and yell,"Turn it up"!. The bull has since then been popularized because of Cryer.
The Urban Cowboy Movie
The Bull attracted people like Aaron Latham a frequent visitor of the club. Sherwood Cryer told Latham to write about Gilley's, and from Latham's experiences. He wrote a cover story for Esquire magazine titled "The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy America's Search for "True Grit"' for its September 1978 issue. The stars would be John Travolta as "Bud" the lead character and Debra Winger as "Sissy" "Bud's" romantic interest. The movie was filmed on site in Pasadena. It was an enormous box-office hit in 1980. The film's sound track album featured "Looking' For Love" By Johnny Lee. And Mickey Gilley with "Stand By Me". John Travolta coming to Pasadena Texas is what did it for the movie. A man who had made disco movies popular was now making Country movies popular also. After that, Country Artists were playing to people who might have ignored country music. The movie was one of the best things to happen to country music and Pasadena.
Sherwood Cryer managed and owned convenience stores, bars, sign shops and vending machines in the Houston area. He wore signature overalls, his hobby was collecting old coins, and he enjoyed listening to classic country music. Cryer had many children from marriage and affairs. Cryer was married twice. He was of French and German descent.