By David Mullen
Poor David’s Pub and its owner David Card have been pioneers on the Dallas music scene for decades. It began on an underdeveloped McKinney Avenue, moved to a bustling and vanguard Greenville Avenue and has now taken up roots in the bourgeoning Cedars neighborhood at 1313 S. Lamar St.
“I grew up in Flint, Mich.,” Card said. “When I would swim in the water, and this was in the 50s, I could see the refuse [i.e. feces] float by. My father, who had divorced my mother, moved to Fort Worth. So out of high school, without any plans whatsoever, she suggested I move to Fort Worth and be with my father.
“He offered to put me through college (University of Dallas),” Card said. “And I found myself spending more time in Dallas. I loved Dallas. It was more of an opened spirited town … a can-do town.”
While in college, his mother sent him, of all things, a ukulele. He learned to play “Little Brown Jug” proficiently, which was basically his entire playlist. “I made a nuisance of myself playing ‘Little Brown Jug’ all through the [college] dormitory,” Card said. “But I liked it. And about that time, The Kingston Trio was very popular.”
He learned all of their songs, and would become part of a folk band called The Nassau Trio. They specialized covering Kingston Trio songs, introducing their own music and specializing in harmony. They later became The Wanderers and played at a number of campus events. Card’s love for music was now ingrained. “And the applause was nice,” Card said.
After undergraduate work and a stint in the Marine Corp, Card returned to U of D and earned a MBA. He went into the corporate world, but it was not for him. He quit a job with IBM. “When I worked for IBM, I was a straight guy by day and sort of a hippie by night. I hung out at a bar called Bo’s Place at 3311 Oak Lawn Ave., the first hippie bar in Dallas.” Bo offered Card a chance to be a nighttime bartender until he figured out what he was going to do.
“Bo noticed that business was a lot better when I worked,” Card said, “because I would engage the customers. It became an extended family within a neighborhood bar.” Bo’s Place had no live music, but Card recalled one night when it changed. “This band came in on the way to New Orleans and asked if they could play for tips. I remember they had a one-armed harmonic player. We said sure, and I remember that they made pretty good tips. But it created a lot of excitement.” In theory, the premise behind Poor David’s Pub was born.
Card eventually bought Bo’s Place. Music was slowly becoming part of the bar. He started a small band competition with the winner crowned by a panel of judges. Card was forced to relocate when the owners sold the property. He relocated to a bar fancied by dart throwers on McKinney Avenue called the Eaton Run, and started to bring in music on weekends. When the bar license came up for renewal, he changed the name to Poor David’s Pub in 1977, and the rest has been Dallas music history.
Local favorites Steven Fromholz, Robert Earl Keen and Brave Combo performed at Poor David’s Pub. So did Grammy Award winner Maren Morris. So did Delbert McClinton, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Dixie Chicks, Arlo Guthrie, Leon Redbone and John Lee Hooker. Both Miranda Lambert and Sara Hickman made their Dallas debuts on stage at Poor David’s.
Card still handles all of the talent booking. “You can’t really delegate that unless you get very corporate about it,” Card said. “Give them a budget and say ‘You need to make 60 percent …’” But he learned that the more you pay for quality music, the more you can charge and the better the crowd will be.
After being on Lower Greenville for 21 years, another expired lease prompted another move. “I had been shopping for some place to buy. I wasn’t going to lease again. So the building I am in is a condominium regime. So I bought condo one.”
He still faces challenges. Oak Cliff went wet, which added new competition. In August, he will mark 15 years in the Cedars location. He fears, at 79 but in excellent shape, he may not be around to see the expected growth in the area. “I stay active. I rode my bike around White Rock Lake yesterday. And I am in a business that I enjoy,” Card said.
One can imaging that Card exercises his booking expertise at Poor David’s Pub, too, to keep the spirit of the Dallas music scene alive.