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June 27, 2021 2 min read

If there is one singular thing that is most associated with the movie Urban Cowboy, it’s that iconic mechanical bull. Not only did it shape the plot of the movie, it changed the landscape of Lone Star honky-tonks, and as he himself will admit, it changed Mickey Gilley’s life.

Here’s the thing: mechanical bulls were never intended to be for entertainment, much less for use by a bunch of rowdy city-cowboys who were three sheets to the wind. It was simply meant to be a training device for actual bull riders. But hey, some of the best ideas were born outside the box, right?

Initially hesitant to install the mechanical bull in his namesake honky-tonk, Mickey Gilley later admitted in an interview just how wrong he was, and how it transformed Gilley’s into a “cultural force”. In the film, it drove the storyline and may have served as an allegory for the up-and-down, tumultuous, and occasionally dangerous love story of Bud and Sissy. In real life, it catapulted the Pasadena honky-tonk to unprecedented popularity, becoming a must-see and must-try spectacle for which regulars and tourists alike lined up night after night. Legend has it that co-owner Sherwood Cryer pushed for adding the bull to the enormous dancehall ostensibly as a form of entertainment, but simultaneously as a way to displace the aggression and ego that was resulting in frequent fistfights among the Gilleyrats. It worked (for the most part) and it changed the game for an entire era.

“It was never a question, we had to have a bull in the Sissy catalog,” Cheryl said. “I mean, anyone who has ever seen the film has that image of Sissy mastering the mechanical bull imprinted in their mind. It was iconic, it was powerful, it was the ultimate ‘you’re not the boss of me’ moment from Sissy. We were intent on capturing that level of sass, just tone down the sexy a bit.”

Gilley’s mechanical bull was certainly the first and arguably the most famous of its kind, but the concept caught on like wildfire. In the decades since Urban Cowboy, several other honky-tonks have followed suit, and now you can take your turn in dancehalls from Texas to Tennessee.

Speaking of taking a turn… we couldn’t resist ourselves. Ok, not an actual ride on the mechanical bull – we’re not sure our worker’s comp covers that – but the enormous taxidermy bull that’s posed mid-buck in the faux arena at Billy Bob’s in Ft Worth (where we photographed this collection) was too tempting for the rest of us not to climb on!

“It was the final day of a several-day shoot and by that point, we’re all just delirious,” Audrey explained. “At that point, we’re simpled-out and everything is funny. I don’t even remember who started it – probably Jack doing a lighting test for Mitchell while the girls were changing outfits – but before you know it, we had all gotten up there for a picture. And let me tell you, getting on and off is a bit harder than you might think! We got lots of giggles out of that; laughter is what fuels a photoshoot.”

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