Hearing the news yesterday about Mickey Gilley passing away brought back some memories for me. I don’t listen to country music, but it doesn’t bother me when it is playing, not like rap does anyway. But to each his own. I write this not about the music, but the famous club Gilley’s in Pasadena, Texas. The club was made famous because of the movie Urban Cowboy.
My first encounter with Gilley’s was when I was working for the Tow Boat company Stapp Towing. We had a tugboat in dry-dock not far from the club. Around 9:00 pm one night I was at the shipyard when we found out that all the work was finished on the Howard, and they were starting the process of lowering the boat back into the ship channel. My boss Bruce Stapp told me to go find Mike, one of the boat’s captains and bring him to the yard. I asked around the shipyard if anyone knew where Mike was. Several of the yard workers told me that they think he went to Gilley’s.
So, to Gilley’s I went to find Mike. I pulled up near the door of the club and told one of the doormen why I was there. They said that I can park one of the reserve spots and they would have someone escort me in so I would not have to pay the door price. I parked the truck and put on my jacket which had my name and company patch for Stapp Towing. My thought was when Mike saw me in the jacket he would know that I was there to take him to the boat.
When I followed the escort through the doors I was amazed at what I saw. The place was huge! I think I heard somewhere that it was 3 acres under one roof. My escort asked me if I knew where Mike was, I told him that I had no idea. So, we walked around. One of the first things I saw was the dance floor near the band that was playing. There were tables on each side of the dance floor. Then I saw the famous bull riding machine with a crowd around it. I think there were more machines nearby, but I really don’t recall. On one side of the building was a bunch of pool tables and arcade machines. We finally found Mike sitting at a table watching the band. He had had many glasses of beer, so he was somewhat drunk. The escort helped me walk Mike to the door and stayed with him while I pulled the truck up to the door. They even help Mike get in the truck.
On the way to the shipyard Mike in his slur said that he “…..was not driving the boat tonight!” I told him that I am sure he was not going to have to steer the boat tonight. He could go to bed once he gets aboard. I drove the truck as close to the dry dock as I could, got out to find some guys to help get Mike to the boat. The dry dock was starting to get lower in the water, but the deck was still dry. There was a ladder temporarily welded to the side of the boat, so we got Mike to the ladder. He climbed the ladder by himself, but we were nearby to catch him just in case. He stopped halfway up the ladder, turned to us on the deck and yelled, “I am not driving the boat tonight!” The other boat Captain assured him that he could go to bed, that he was going to drive it tonight. Mike got aboard and that was the last I saw of him that night.
Several years passed by the time I went to Gilley’s again. I had earned my college degree and was beginning my career in TV Production. I was working for Phil Arms Productions as well as taking any freelance jobs I could get. I was offered a machine op job on New Years Eve 1986/87. The shoot was to be live at Gilley’s with the traditional midnight countdown. We had three production trucks at the club, the Directors truck which had the machine room in the back. That was the truck I was assigned to. I was to work with another guy operating the Ampex VPR-6 one-inch tape machines. We had a stack of spot reels that were to be played back during the live production. The truck next to us was the camera/equipment truck. All the cameras were cabled to this truck. This had the racks of equipment like the CCU’s (Camera Control Units) and other stuff for a live shot. The back of that truck was storage space for all the camera equipment while traveling. Next to that truck was the satellite uplink truck. I did not go into that truck. All the trucks were cabled together to form a live production system.
I arrived at Gilley’s and parked near where the production trucks were located. My first task was to help pull the many thick cables from the trucks to all the cameras inside the building. If I remember right, there were about 17 broadcast cameras set up. Walking inside to get a feel for where all the cameras were going to be located was a lot different than when I was last here. The last time it was crowded and loud, now it was dark and quiet. We pulled the thick multi-pin cables throughout the facility, hooked up the cameras and powered it all up. We had to run the cables away from the normal walkways of the building, but it was impossible to keep them clear of all the walkways.
After getting the cameras all connected to the trucks we had a pre-production meeting. We went over the schedule of when things would take place. The Charlie Daniels band was the main one there that night with Asleep at the Wheel as the other band. My job was to be on headset and listen for the commercial roll and countdown of all the spots that played that night. We had a lot of commercials for the car Yugo and Go Army spots among other spots. There were times when we played commercials back-to-back so when my 30 second commercial was done, I had to remove that commercial from the machine while the other 30 second commercial spot play on the machine the other guy was operating. That meant I had less than 30 seconds to remove the tape and reels from my machine and load the next spot. When my spot was over, and his was playing, I cut the tape-instead of rewinding, removed the reels, grabbed the next spot and empty reel, loaded those onto the machine and cued the tape. Every time I got it cued, the countdown to roll my tape was going. We had a 3rd machine waiting just in case one of us could not get our tape ready. I think we used that 3rd machine once. Once we were in the groove of operating we were in the zone. Being in the zone, I had forgotten how cold it was since we had the back doors of the semi-trailer open so the equipment would not get hot.
Midnight came, the countdown happened on time, and we were on the air for another 30 minutes before we were done. Then we had to gather up all the equipment, case them up and load them on the semi-trailer. But bringing in all the cables was the biggest challenge. People were still partying and dancing all over the place. Pulling the cables out and trying our best not to trip anyone took skill. We did trip a few people, but they were so drunk they did not notice why they fell.
After the trucks were all loaded and trailer doors closed, we were released from the job. They told us the check is in the mail. You know, I never did see that 200-dollar check, but I have fond memories of my first live up-link TV production, which was at Gilley’s