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A Real Conspiracy: How The Mechanical Bull Killed "The Cowboy Fad"

Updated on April 6, 2016
The late Waylon Jennings, one of the founding members of the "Outlaw Music Movement."
The late Waylon Jennings, one of the founding members of the "Outlaw Music Movement." | Source
Mickey Gilley former  owner of Gilley's,  the biggest nightclub  in Teas.
Mickey Gilley former owner of Gilley's, the biggest nightclub in Teas. | Source


This is a serious departure from my usual "10 Things" list-type of hub. But all in all, it is a serious piece. Just want you to be prepared for some serious reading without any verbal gag's or hokey punchlines. I believe that there comes "a" time for all people to grow as human beings. I am growing with this offering.

I first need to say, "attention conspiracy theorists,": If there were ever a hub written for you, this is the one. I am not putting you on. You might as well get out your trusty notepad, pen, cup of black coffee, clear whatever room you are reading this on your desktop or laptop and digest every syllable of this astounding, yet could-be factual story of a time in America when we went through (and most of us enjoyed) what I call "The Cowboy Fad."

 Hank Williams Jr., another 'outlaw'  Country Music member.
Hank Williams Jr., another 'outlaw' Country Music member. | Source

Hold it a minute.

This was not a violent fad. Nor was it dangerous, except maybe if you drank too much Lone Star beer (official brew of the former Gilley's nightclub in Texas) and got whipped by a "good ol' boy" wearing his trusty plastic cowboy hat adorned with hawk feathers. That was the only danger factor that we worried about. Heck, you didn't even have to call "Jim Phelps," (Peter Graves) and the "IMF," Impossible Mission Force: Greg Morris, Barney Collier; Peter Lupus, Willy Armitage; Martin Landau, Rollin Hand; Barbara Bain, Cinnamon Carter and Bob Johnson, IMF Voice on Tape (uncredited in all of the episodes of Mission: Impossible). All was good. No harm was being done to anyone.

But before we explore the lights and sounds of Gilley's, we need to trace this story back to its roots: Nashville, Tennessee, home of "Music Row," or 16th Avenue, where all of the music publishing companies that are "the" established music publishing companies and recording studios such as Acuff/Rose Music are located. Lacy J. Dalton even had a hit song named after this location. She named her song, naturally, "16th Avenue." I miss Dalton in 2016.

These music publishers were so powerful that whomever they signed to a record contract had to follow their every whim and wish. To the letter. Otherwise, "so long, buddy. The bricks are calling your two feet." I am serious. There are as many broken country singers now panhandling for food money as there are famous Country stars who are making money hand-over-fist. To me, and I do not apologize for saying this: "The real Country Music of Dalton's time is no more. Today's Country Music is nothing more than a mixture of Pop and Bubble Gum music when it shoots from our radio speakers."

Intermission. You can listen to "16th Avenue," rather than read about it.

In the beginning.

There was a secret movement being birthed in someone's home, maybe their basement, that would literally shake the foundation of Nashville "Music City" Tennessee from the bottom to the top penthouses. And this "movement," was not a handful of Country singers protesting how these powerful music publishers were controlling the Nashville they once knew. No. These folks meant business. The list includes the late Waylon Jennings and wife, Jessi Colter; Willie Nelson; Hank Williams, Jr. and a few more Country balladeer's with bold spirits who wanted to do "their music their way," without an office crammed full of "suits" with cigars pointing out where they would play, whom they would tour with and how much they made per show.

 Charlie Daniels  and band often  played at Gilley's.
Charlie Daniels and band often played at Gilley's. | Source

Who is YOUR favorite "Outlaw" singer?

See results

"Outlaw Music" was born.

For Jennings, Nelson, Williams and more, they knew that when they "climbed out on that limb," there was no turning back. Actually, without knowing it, Hank, Jr., started the earliest form of "Outlaw Music," after his long recovery from a near-death fall he had off of Ajax Mountain that straddles the borders of Montana and Idaho. It was while he was undergoing numerous surgeries to reconstruct his face and mend other body parts that he began to say to the Nashville Music Establishment, "Take your company-produced LP's and shove 'em! I am out of here. And so are my few rowdy friends."

Before long, being an "outlaw" Country singer was hip, cool, and the thing to be. But this movement, as it were, did not come without a few tough times for Bocephus, Jennings and Nelson. Their former record labels tried to "freeze them out" of any decent concert dates, but that greedy notion was thwarted by Hank's release of "Family Tradition," that told his entire story about leaving Nashville and the music "they," the guys on 16th Avenue demanded that he play.

Waylon and Hank Jr., "talk" about Hank Sr.

David Allan Coe is also a member of  the "Outlaw Music Movement."
David Allan Coe is also a member of the "Outlaw Music Movement."

"Outlaw singers" gotta stand together.

The new "Outlaw Music Movement," not only sent a shock wave throughout the powers that be in Nashville, but through the management companies who were being told by the all-powerful music publishers where "their" super-stars were to be booked.

Suddenly, and with one broad stroke of a drugstore ink pen, Hank Jr., Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson set out to do their own music their way without too many people cluttering-up the water. According to Hank Jr., his late dad, Hank Sr., was the "original" outlaw of Country Music for doing what he wanted, when he wanted and with whom he wanted. Stress, life on the road, and being lorded over by men behind desks back in Nashville who never set foot on lonesome highway somewhere in Montana, were making Hank Sr.'s life miserable. This is credited for one of the reasons for Hank's heavy drinking and eventual drug abuse (pain pills).

Even in the rough times and backlash from "the establishment" in Nashville, Hank, Jr., Waylon, and Willie along with David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck who was already being a rebel all to himself with a song, "Take This Job and Shove It," and Paycheck with his dark beard, long hair and cowboy hat was considered along with Hank Sr., the front runners of "Outlaw Music" and these guys and gals stuck it out until one day, Nashville, Los Angeles and New York blinked and suddenly these once-powerful music publishing companies, studios and record labels were on the "outlaws" bandwagon due to the new millions just waiting to be made.

 Actress Brooke Burns  on mechanical bull,  the main reason that the  Cowboy Fad died in USA.
Actress Brooke Burns on mechanical bull, the main reason that the Cowboy Fad died in USA. | Source
Barry Corbin was  cast as Uncle Bob  on Urban Cowboy.
Barry Corbin was cast as Uncle Bob on Urban Cowboy. | Source

The evolution of "Outlaw Music" to The "Cowboy Fad."

Now as you already know, the more things change, the more they stay the same, this old saying can be applied to the evolution of "Outlaw Music" to America's newest, coolest change in make-up: "The Cowboy Fad."

I have this sneaking suspicion that "The Cowboy Fad," and the surgence of the CB radio craze that hit our nation were first cousins in this smooth evolution that caused everyone to start wearing cowboy gear from high-priced hats to designer jeans and even chaps if the moment was right.

Everyone was wide-open to the idea to being a cowboy even if it meant just being a cowboy over the weekend. Doctor's, lawyers, teachers and other symbols of society were easily-sucked into this star-studded fad by the onslaught of music on the airways of radio stations that were once Rock formatted and now just playing Country Music by Johnny Lee, who made a name for himself by conning Mickey Gilley (at Gilley's night club) into allowing him to sing. And frankly, Lee was a cut above decent when it came to singing.

Debra Winger played  "Sissy,"  on Urban  Cowboy.
Debra Winger played "Sissy," on Urban Cowboy. | Source

Big changes over the horizon.

There was finally a chance for every good ol' boy in America to be a part of something. And something big. Who could blame them? Being a cowboy was fun. Singing off-key (thanks to letting off steam with friends in your favorite bar and drinking a wee too much) and getting to hear Hank Jr. and other "outlaw" singers on stage while you hoop it up on Saturday night and be first at church the next morning.

Thanks to Hollywood this time, not Nashville, James Bridges and Aaron Latham put their heads together and came up with a winning script: Urban Cowboy where John Travolta, a "Welcome Back, Kotter," alum, was cast as "Bud," who had outgrown his rural Texas homesite and had "the itch" to head to the bright lights of Pasadena, Texas for a better paying job and whatever else lay in store for him.

A short synopsis of Urban Cowboy: After moving to Pasadena, Texas, country boy Bud Davis (John Travolta) starts hanging out at a bar called Gilley's, where he falls in love with Sissy (Debra Winger), a cowgirl who believes the sexes are equal. They eventually marry, but their relationship is turbulent due to Bud's traditional view of gender roles. Jealousy over his rival, Wes (Scott Glenn), leads to their separation, but Bud attempts to win Sissy back by triumphing at Gilley's mechanical bull-riding competition.

And therein, (did you catch it?) lies the reason that "The Cowboy Fad" met its demise at the nuts and bolts of the mechanical bull. Yes, the mechanical bull of all things. Not a new movement of hair color or music made by putting sixteen Amazon gorillas into a cage with sixteen guitars and seeing what comes out, but a mechanical bull with no heart, soul, or conscience.

Scott Glenn  played "Wes,"  in  Urban Cowboy.
Scott Glenn played "Wes," in Urban Cowboy. | Source
 John Travolta, "Bud,"  and Madolyn Smith, "Pam,"  on set of  Urban Cowboy.
John Travolta, "Bud," and Madolyn Smith, "Pam," on set of Urban Cowboy. | Source

Kenneth, you need to explain your conspiracy.

Gladly. Now you need to summon all of the patience that you have left because you have been so good to read this piece down to here, so here is my theory, or rather conspiracy on "How The Mechanical Bull Killed The Cowboy Fad."

After Gilley's really made a name for themselves with providing customers with rides on their mechanical bull, it was like an old time wild fire on the prairie. Fame of Gilley's spread almost overnight from coast to coast. Now everyone wanted to come to Gilley's and dance with their sweetheart, drink some Lone Star beer, and ride the mechanical bull.

Before long, the mechanical bull was "the" draw. The famous Country singers were a hot second in popularity to this lifeless piece of metal and wires. How it worked was not a work of genius design. It worked on the principle of remote control and hydraulics. Note: if you have the movie, Urban Cowboy on DVD or VHS, watch the scene(s) with Debra "Sissy" Winger practicing her riding abilities on the mechanical bull. You will see the bull operator who is responsible for adjusting the speed and movements of the bull in order to throw contestants onto the safe, padded floor.

The real reason that most mechanical bull riders were tossed onto their butts was due to the amount of booze in their systems. That is no mystery. But then something sexy, something sensual started happening between the mechanical bull not only at Gilley's, but other nightclubs around the country that had "problems" written all over its back end.

Time for a musical interlude.

Willie Nelson helped with the  "Outlaw Music Movement."
Willie Nelson helped with the "Outlaw Music Movement."

Someone important gets hurt.

One night at Gilley's or some other nightclub, it is business as usual. Beer is flowing, a Country singer is on stage performing while customers did the "Texas Two Step," or the "Boot Scoot Boogie," and things were seemingly settling down.

That was until a very ambitious hot blond who wanted to fit into the "Mechanical Bull Rider Crowd," and broke rank with her boyfriend, the son of a high-ranking state official in the State of Texas. It was like a professional magician waved his magic wand and in the next 48 hours, "this" nightclub was stripped of its mechanical bull by order of the State Attorney General due to several important, big money people signing a legitimate complaint saying in so many words . . ."the mechanical bull poses not only a physical threat to the weaker girls and guys who know nothing about how a "monster" like this electronic menace works, and this machine is also an open threat to the marital foundation of our town and county, so we the undersigned demand that this mechanical bull be removed immediately."

One more glimpse from Gilley's.

Merle Haggard, Country Music icon, dead at age 79.
Merle Haggard, Country Music icon, dead at age 79. | Source

It is with Great Sadness, I Announce

the untimely death of Country Music icon, Merle Haggard, 79, April 6, due to complications from pneumonia.

Haggard, who said that he hate being thought of as an icon, was instrumental in introducing a new sound to Country Music. Haggard called this new sound, "The Bakersfield Sound."

Among Haggard's many hits were:

  • "Lonesome Fugitive."
  • "Fighting Side of Me."
  • "Silver Wings."
  • "Natural High."
  • "Are The Good Times Really Over For Good?"
  • "Okie From Muskogee."
  • "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."

and many more.

I offer my condolences to Haggard's family and numerous fans on this sad day of his demise.

We have certainly lost an important piece of America as well as an integral piece of Country Music.


Now that the mechanical bulls were being torn from the floors of thriving nightclubs across America, business began to spiral downward due to the regular customers not having an entertainment outlet but dancing the same old dances that had been danced to death. Now with nothing more to do but dance, drink and listen to a fading Country singer whose songs were getting a bit burned out, the nightclub had no other choice but to shut down.

Some nightclubs were hit with huge lawsuits by angry husbands and single men, but the one male who championed the demise of the mechanical bull was the son of that certain State Attorney General who did get his hot girlfriend to stop riding this "social menace," the mechanical bull by asking her a tough question: "Billie Sue, sweetie, do you know how un-ladylike you look up there on that stupid piece of metal?"

"Billie Sue" suddenly seen the light. Repented to her man, the son of the State Attorney General and went on to marry him for a life of luxury and pleasure all without the influence of the mechanical bull.

And much like dominoes standing in a long row, when the mechanical bull left, so did "The Cowboy Fad," for now, there was just something different about showing-up at a nightclub that had no mechanical bull and regular customers found other outlets for weekend entertainment.

This was when American saw a short, but intense interest in bowling


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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear MizBejabbers,

      Wow! Your comments, like I have told you, would make a great book. Why don't you think about a novel about your life? I want the first copy.

      Hilarious point about Waylon and Willie in the control room. I am so impressed about you being a disc jockey. That was my dream in 1972, my senior year in high school. But a non-caring "guidance" counselor broke that dream into shards of glass.

      I appreciate your friendship and following so much.

      I was raised on True Country Music, so today's fans can keep Garth, Blake, and the such.

      Give me Hank Sr., Ernest, Faron, Webb, Little Jimmie and the rest.

      I agree also with your line about Mickey never making it big.

      I bet he is cursing the day he had to get rid of his nightclub.

      Write me anytime and keep yourself sane.

      Your Friend for Life,

      Kenneth :)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dreamer Meg,

      I suspect that you are right, but I cannot prove it.

      With the "whirlwind" of changes in Country Music that started with "Outlaws," I share what one of the older stars of Country Music stated about four years ago on SirusXM Radio. I believe it was George Strait. He said, "as for 'true' Country, it has been replaced with a plastic version that will be here just long enough to annoy enough people to back to the original."

      And it may be closer to going back than we think.

      Praise God!

      Your Friend for Life,


    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Really? This is true and not some of your bull? LOL I was a C&W disk jockey about this time, and David Allen Coe was one of my favorites, not to mention Willie and Waylon an' the boys. I never met Mickey Gilley, but he is Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin, and since he never really made it big in music, that bull was his claim to fame.

      I have a funny little story here. When my ex was working as a radio engineer in Lubbock, TX, he did some work at a station where both Willie and Waylon were employed as disk jockeys before they made their mark on music. The two were such characters that the manager actually posted a sign on the control room door to the effect that nobody was to allow Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in the control room at the same time. Apparently they were too full of bull.

      Ah, the good old days of country music. Now we have the likes of Garth Brooks, who sings like a girl. Great memories here, Kenneth, my friend.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Very interesting. I would think that there has been more than one "mechanical bull" removed because it stood on the toes of some big shot!


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