By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios is located in an industrial area of Denton, nestled against the railroad tracks, across the street from the Denton Concrete Company and in the shadow of the Morrison's Corn-Kits sign that serves as the city's meager skyline. If you drove by the building during the day, you'd have no idea what happens there at night; there is no neon sign in front--no sign at all, in fact. From the outside, the whitewashed building looks exactly like it did when the concrete company was using it as a distribution center, nothing more than a squat cement box.
When Jayson Wortham and his wife, Memory, opened Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios there in March 1997, they didn't plan to do much with the building. It was supposed to be exactly what the name implies: a place for Denton-area bands to practice. In fact, the reason the Worthams leased the building in the first place was so Jayson and his new band could have a place to rehearse. He had been playing in the band Grenella with Rob Peters--the owner of another club in Denton, the now-defunct Argo--and the band rehearsed at the Argo; when the group was gone, so was his place to practice.
"I wanted to start getting some people together to play, and I didn't have anywhere to play," Jayson Wortham recalls. "So I just started thinking of how there's nowhere around Denton to play, besides for that one storage-unit place or whatever out in Fort Worth. I ended up finding a spot within the next month; probably within three weeks I found that spot. Walked into a Bank One and got a loan to hold the spot. So we started doing that. I never intended to have any shows, you know. It was just going to be a rehearsal space."
After the Argo closed in September 1997, Wortham's original intentions went with it. He and Memory may not have set out to be in the nightclub business, but they were in it just the same, no matter how unprepared they were. ("We didn't have a stage or any sound equipment or anything," Memory Wortham told the Dallas Observer in 1999.) What began as a rescue mission--a few shows here and there to do what they could to help out--abruptly turned into a full calendar. "People started sending things in," Jayson Wortham says. "Probably within four months or so, shows started getting serious."
From the beginning, there were problems with the city--not that anyone was surprised. An ad hoc rock club operating on a bring-your-own-beer policy in a college town full of minors was bound to attract the attention of the local authorities. But the city, for the most part, took it easy on the upstart club. "They were pretty lenient on us having shows outside all the time," Wortham says. He adds, laughing, "I never told them when we were gonna have a show outside."
While the Worthams made minor improvements to Rubber Gloves as the shows increased--building an outdoor stage and upgrading the sound system, for example--they had bigger ideas in mind. Jayson mentioned to Josh Baish that he wanted to open a bar on the premises, but it was the kind of idea you toss around over a few beers. "I had no money whatsoever," Wortham says. "We were barely staying afloat."
Back then, Baish was a bartender at the now-defunct Rick's Place, and he had developed a taste for the bar business during the five years he spent cracking open Shiners and pouring $1 well drinks for University of North Texas fraternity brothers. Baish looked at the old cement factory and the people who were hanging out there and saw nothing but upside. "It was in its infancy, and it just looked like it had a lot of potential," he says. "And the bands that were coming through, I was a fan of already."
With that in mind, in late 1998, Baish and the Worthams made an agreement: If Baish put up the money to get the bar started, he and the couple would be equal partners. So he bought in, using a loan from his father, an advance on the trust fund that he would soon have access to. He might as well have purchased an acre of quicksand and cement shoes.
Baish assumed taking the next step would be as easy as writing that first check. He was 23 then and an idealist with big ideas for the small venue: He not only intended to add a bar, but an art gallery and small movie theater as well. To him, Rubber Gloves would, could and should be more than just a place to get a few beers and see a couple of bands; it could also be somewhat of an indie-rock community center, something to get involved in, to rally around. He believed in Rubber Gloves and knew it wouldn't take much convincing to get everyone else to believe in it, too. The problem was, Baish didn't know whom he'd have to convince or how long it would take.
Still, with Baish's infusion of cash, it seemed as though everything was possible, that every idea he and the Worthams had would become a reality, and soon, too. Baish set out to acquire a liquor license, the first step to the new and improved Rubber Gloves, and they planned to tap their first keg as licensed bar owners just after the holidays.