The Petty Archives

Last call at Dub's: the end of an era
By Bill DeYoung
Gainesville Sun - Wednesday, January 16, 1991

After nearly three decades as Gainesville's one seemingly indestructible rock 'n' roll nightclub, Dub's has passed into history.

The square cinderblock building on NW 13th Street, which drew record crowds for 26 years under one man's astute management, is on the auction block.

"I tried to hang in there as long as I could with it," says Christy Thomas, who took over the business a year ago following the death of her father, James "Dub" Thomas, longtime patriarch of the bar. "But there's no sense in trying to ride a dead horse."

Taxes, she says, sunk the good ship Dub.

Throughout the '70s, Dub's weathered the storms of a fickle public. As many Gainesville bars dried up, unable to keep the locals shelling out during the dry, student-less summer months, Dub's held on, And prospered.

Dub used to say it was because he understood what people wanted and he gave it to them: he brought in consistently good out-of-town rock bands, gave the best local ones a shot, and he kept the beer prices down.  Another of his innovations, the mini-skirt contest, continued up until the very week the club closed its doors.

The trouble began in the late '80s, when Dub overextended himself by buying up several other local nightspots. Instead of expanding his empire, he got into tax trouble. At the time of his death on Jan. 9, 1990, Christy says, he was in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.

A burly Californian who came to Florida in 1964, Dub Thomas bought the building -- in what was then a little-developed section of Gainesville -- after cleaning up in the fast-food business via the In-and-Out hamburger chain.

During the '60s, the place sold steak dinners it's still listed in the phone book as Dub's Steer Room). Dub started presenting live bands toward the end of the decade, and by 1970 his club was the place to be for young, rock-starved Gainesvillians, especially those who shunned the campus scene. 

 One of Dub's first "house" bands, whose job it was to provide background music for the strippers night after night, was Mudcrutch. A quartet of local boys who played mostly twangy, country-rock type music. Mudcrutch included Tom Petty and his best buddy, Mike Campbell. Today, of course, Tom Petty is Tom Petty and Mike Campbell is his songwriting/record-producing partner in the Heartbreakers.

Mudcrutch, which underwent several severe personnel changes during its long tenure at Dub's, nearly didn't get the gig at first because they played too much original material. Learn some covers, Dub told them, and I'll put you on stage.

They did, and Dub did, too.

For a while, Mudcrutch backed up a steady stream of topless dancers (another of Dub's early crowd attractors). The dancers became a thing of the past at about the same time Mudcrutch moved to Los Angeles, the first step in their transformation into Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

When the Heartbreakers appeared in Gainesville at the end of January, Petty dedicated the song "Southern Accents" to Dub's memory.

Stan Lynch, the drummer for the Heartbreakers, says he saw some of his first-ever rock 'n' roll shows at Dub's. He was younger than the guys in Mudcrutch, so Lynch hardly ever performed in Dub's (he was in a band called Road Turkey), but he remembers seeing Bob Seger there. And Foghat. Mudcrutch, too.

Lynch remembers when driving to Dub's was an adventure, becaue it was so far out of what was then town. And he remembers Dub. "It's significant that a guy who was in his 50s could run a nightclub for young people better than young people could," he says. "I'm always impressed by experience, and the older I get, I acknowledge and appreciate the older people who can stay in business.

"That's what impresses me about a cat like Dub and his club, more than anything -- the guy had it wired. He obviously knew how to run a club for the town. Whatever he did, it did it for 25 years. He must've had something on the ball." 

 Christy Thomas and her brother Wayne tried valiantly to keep the old club going. But the debts, she says, were insurmountable. Christy says she tried to get the club re-financed, but "the economy just doesn't know what it wants to do.

"When Daddy passed away, there were just too many debts in arrears," she adds. "Before he died, he was looking to get all his taxes paid up, but he wasn't able to.

"What were were hoping to do, originally, was close for the holidays. But then we just didn't have the money to re-open it."

So another landmark comes up on the auction block. Will Gainesville ever be the same again?

"We'd just like to say thanks, Gainesville, all the people that hung in there with us all those years," Christy says. "It breaks our heart, it really does, but there's just not much you can do about it when you're dealt that kind of a hand.

"I hate to see it, but I have to go on," she says. "I've tried till I'm blue in the face. I guess it's better that we do it on our own accord instead of getting the reputation that we were kicked out of business or something.

"Because there's still 26 years of Dad that he put in there, I told Wayne a couple of months after Dad was gone, this was definitely Dad's bar. It was just him."