Elliott Rubinson, left, with Jimmy Fallon and Dean Guitars' Joshua Maloney.


Armadillo's Elliott Rubinson Dies at 62

Elliott Rubinson, the founder of Armadillo Enterprises, has passed away at the age of 62 following a battle with cancer, according to family sources.

Rubinson, a long-time industry entrepreneur and bass player, could be considered one of the early disruptors on the retail side of the music products industry. In 1975, the 21-year-old Rubinson moved to Tampa and began selling used instruments out of his basement. Six months later, Thoroughbred Music was born in a 700-square-foot storefront that brought "New York prices" to the state of Florida. Rubinson became a national presence on the retail scene by creating one of the most popular music retail catalogs of the 1980s and '90s.

An entrepreneur with a flair for the dramatic, Rubinson purchased the historic 87,000-square-foot Kapok Pavilion in Clearwater, Florida, in 1993—antiques and all—turning the building into the headquarters for Thoroughbred. When chains like Guitar Center, Sam Ash and MARS Music began to expand rapidly across the nation, Rubinson expanded Thoroughbred, too, into a six-store chain before selling the company to Sam Ash Music in 1999.

He retained Armadillo Enterprises, which he founded in 1994 as a manufacturer of flight and tour cases. Since then, Armadillo has grown into a distributor of guitars, basses and drum products. The company purchased Dean Guitars in 1997 and ddrum in 2005, as well as co-founding Luna Guitars in 2005 with stained-glass artist Yvonne de Villiers.

Along with running Armadillo, Rubinson toured the world playing bass with everyone from Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker and Vinnie Moore to Michael Angelo Batio and Black Star Riders.

At the end of 2016, Rubinson named his son Evan Rubinson president and CEO of Armadillo. He wrote the following passage:

"I write this to all with a heavy heart, because as you know, my father is no longer here to be able to read this. Elliott Rubinson was best known as a businessman and musician to most, however, he was much more than just these two things. Elliott was a husband, a father, a mentor, a friend, a role model, and an inspiration—his presence was uplifting and motivating wherever he was, throughout whatever tasks he undertook.

"Tragically, at the age of 62 years old, Elliott "Dean" Rubinson, lost a valiant, 15-month battle with a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Even though many of us close to him have been preparing ourselves for the possibility that this moment could occur, it makes the situation no less difficult to come to terms with.

"I love my father, as I know many of you do as well—in light of that, the family will be hosting a celebration of life party at a later date, which will be invite only, and will include some of Elliott's closest and most long-standing friends, family, and fellow musicians."

Richard Ash, president of Sam Ash Music, was a long-time friend of Rubinson's. He offered the following tribute:

"My friend Elliott. I first met Elliott when I auditioned to be in his band back in the early '70s. We practiced in my parent's basement. He played bass. I played lead guitar. He was bright and witty with a great sense of humor. We were both big fans of the hard rock band Cactus and basically rehearsed playing all the songs on their album. We also had something else in common. Elliott, at the age of 19, already had a thriving business buying and selling music gear out of his house, listing the items on 'Buy Lines' which was the eBay of its day. I was subsequently thrown out of the band and we lost touch.

"Six or so years later, I find out that he had opened a major music store in Tampa called Thoroughbred Music. He was extremely smart and started expanding his business rapidly. In a relatively short time he had become one of the largest musical instrument retailers in the country. He had six powerful stores and a thriving mail-order business. He had no partners and no family in the business. He did this all by himself—he was a brilliant businessman. I admired him greatly. During this time, he also got into the wholesale side and started acquiring brands including the Dean Guitars and ddrum brands. He was also kind of a real estate magnate as well. He still currently owns the 45,000-square-foot building in Clearwater that houses a Sam Ash as well as countless other holdings.

"I guess it is about 20 years ago now that Elliott called me on the phone and said he wanted to sell his retail business. He was concerned about MARS Music entering into his markets and said he wanted to concentrate on the wholesale business. I flew down, visited his locations, and we made a quick deal.

"Elliott was a true genius. He would have been successful in any business, but he went with his passion for music and built a business around it. Unlike most of us in this business, Elliott actually lived the dream. He spent the last number of years touring the world playing bass in major venues with famous artists. He was truly one of my heroes.

"He has left us all too soon. My condolences to his family and all the people he touched along the way."

Flowers and cards may be sent to the Armadillo Headquarters at 4924 W. Waters Ave., Tampa, Florida, 33634. Gifts and donations may be sent to the Duke Tisch Brain Center, on behalf of Elliott Rubinson and Rubinson family.

A private memorial service celebrating Elliott's life will be held at a later date.