Sherwood Cryer – Gilley’s Co-Founder

Framed Gilley's Pasadena, TX Poster

Sherwood Cryer Tribute on Gilley's Sign.

Sherwood Cryer Tribute on Gilley’s Sign.

While almost everyone knows the name “Gilley’s” most people don’t know the name Sherwood Cryer. But you should, because if there wasn’t a Sherwood Cryer there would be no Gilley’s. There would also be no “Urban Cowboy” movie, no mechanical bulls in country bars, and probably nothing like the world-wide growth in the popularity of country music that he helped create. And Mickey Gilley might still be playing in local bars.

Why? Sherwood was a salesman. Rough and gruff, a southern redneck, but in my humble opinion a true marketing genius. According to the 1980 book “Saturday Night at Gilley’s” (see picture below) by Bob Claypool, it was Cryer who saw Mickey Gilley playing at the Nesadel Club in Pasadena, Texas, recognized his talent, and pursued Mickey to partner with him in a new club. Gilley resisted the idea, including Cryer’s suggestion that they name it “Gilley’s,” until Cryer expanded his existing club (which was right down the street from the Nesadel) and put up a big neon sign with the name “Gilley’s” on it. When he showed it to Mickey in 1971 he was blown away and agreed to partner with him and play regularly at the new Gilley’s club.

Saturday Night at Gilley's book

1980 book “Saturday Night at Gilley’s” by Bob Claypool.

From there, Cryer methodically created and marketed a never-ending list of merchandise (including Gilley’s Beer, shirts, cups, ash trays, etc.), motivated Aaron Latham to write an article called “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America’s Search for True Grit” which appeared in the September 12, 1978 issue of Esquire Magazine (see picture below) and quickly became the basis for the film “Urban Cowboy”, and invented the concept of putting a mechanical bull in the club. This last idea was pure genius. He recognized the need for cowboys to show off for the cowgirls and figured this was something they could do besides beat up on each other. For the same reason, he installed the famous Punching Bag arcade machine.

Esquire Mag. Urban Cowboy 1978

September 12, 1978 issue of Esquire Magazine with cover story that led to the making of “Urban Cowboy” as a film.

Cryer, acting as personal manager for Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee, made sure they performed in “Urban Cowboy” and that both had songs on the soundtrack album, giving them both huge hits. He also bought the Nesadel Club which shortly thereafter was renamed “Johnny Lee’s Club.”

As if that wasn’t enough, he knew that after “Urban Cowboy” came out it would make the mechanical bull famous so he went and bought the company that made them. The training tool for rodeo cowboys became an instant hit and sales skyrocketed to country bars around the world, making tons of money for the 2 partners.

Gilley and Cryer remained partners until the late 1980’s when Gilley became convinced that Cryer was stealing from him and filed a lawsuit. Gilley won the suit and Cryer was ordered to pay Gilley and turn over the club to him. Mickey Gilley closed the club in 1989 and it mysteriously burned down in 1990. Cryer was accused of paying someone to start the arson fire but that charge was never proven.

Sherwood Cryer was born on September 2, 1927 and died on August 13, 2009 at the age of 81. Below is a picture of an actual funeral notice. Hanging over it is a pair of red Gilley’s suspenders just like the ones he used to wear in the “Urban Cowboy” days. If you look at the famous Gilley’s poster at the top of this page you’ll see a likeness of Sherwood Cryer to the far right of the cowboy riding the mechanical bull with him wearing those iconic suspenders.

Sherwood Cryer Funeral Announcement

Sherwood Cryer’s funeral announcement with red Gilley’s suspenders.

R.I.P. – Sherwood Cryer



PS: All pictures above are of items that are part of the collection (except the old Gilley’s sign, of course).

2 Responses to “Sherwood Cryer – Gilley’s Co-Founder”
  1. Shelly Cryer says:

    Sherwood Cryer was born September 2, 1926.

    • Hi Shelly,

      Thanks for the info. I guess the year 1927 on his funeral announcement was a typo. Please let me know if you’d ever like to talk, I’d love to speak with you.


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