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Dennis Lange lives at the office -- literally. His workplace is his residence, though his version of home doesn't quite jibe with the popular definition of a livable habitat. The first indication that things are more than a little unconventional at the Lange residence are the vans loaded down with amplifiers, lights and other stage gear that clog the driveway. The second clue is a worn plywood ramp that leads up to the front door, smoothing the way for the heaviest of the equipment to be wheeled in and out. Though there are bars on every window, the front door remains unlocked until the wee hours of the morning, emphasizing the fact that this isn't a home with a typical operating schedule -- or a typical anything, for that matter.
Out of this modest, one-story dwelling in a Galleria area neighborhood a block north of Richmond Avenue, Dennis Lange lords over Dennis Lange Promotions and its sundry offshoots and support systems. There's no sign out front, so visitors have to go by house numbers. But once you find the place and venture through the door, you've crossed into the nerve center of an entertainment empire that controls much of the live music heard around Houston -- and almost all of the live music heard along the Richmond Strip, the city's most successful and flashy entertainment drag.
If a band wants to work the Strip, at some point they have to pass through Dennis Lange Promotions. At the moment, Lange has exclusive arrangements with 45 clubs, and he occasionally supplies acts to another 50 to 100 venues. Aside from its lock on the Strip, DLP has a reasonably firm hold on nightclub bookings in the Clear Lake area, not to mention select venues along FM 1960 and in Galveston, Austin, the Metroplex and Corpus Christi. Then, of course, there are the countless special events, fraternity parties and other gatherings he handles yearly, and the shows at military bases overseas. Lange figures he finds work for at least 80 bands a week. The most lucrative acts in Houston -- groups such as Toy Subs, Rat Ranch, Jerk, Hi-Rize and Arrival -- are among them, relying on Lange for everything from finding them last-minute gigs to charting their careers.
Lange can rightly claim that he holds the fates of hundreds of Houston's working musicians in his hands. And as is often the case with someone with so much power over the livelihood of so many, Lange is apt to be reviled as much as he's worshipped. But he didn't stumble in front of the firing line by accident. He did it willfully, pouncing on the emerging row of clubs along Richmond Avenue years before others saw a glimmer of its potential and perfecting his system of bookings and artist management to a near science. Now, little more than a decade after Lange first arrived in Houston with little intention of staying, venues all over Texas turn to him week in and week out to shore up their live entertainment rosters. Indeed, if public credit were given for such work, Lange's name would be posted on half the marquees along the Richmond Strip.
"It's not a matter of how much influence he has on the Richmond Strip," says Urban Art Bar co-owner/operator Greg Pitzer, Lange's longtime friend and onetime management partner. "He runs it. It's amazing. He's literally cornered the market."
Of course, the market that Lange has cornered is one that depends on something many musicians look down on: cover music, normally note by note renditions of current radio hits and classics from the past. Though the skill required to play such music can be considerable -- many of Lange's bands have honed their craft to an uncanny degree -- it's still something that those in the auteur school of rock and roll dismiss as little more than live action jukeboxes, and surely nothing to be admired.
Lange himself doesn't waste time on such airy arguments; he has other priorities. Dennis Lange isn't imposing. He's on the short side, actually, though he appears to be in decent shape, with only a hint of a sagging midriff. He isn't a smoker, at least not around visitors, and he claims to have long ago given up the vices of his younger days -- aside, that is, from beer. On this particular afternoon, Lange is dressed, neatly but casually, in blue jeans and a black Alley Theatre sweatshirt. His hair, gray, longish and thinning, is tied back in a neat ponytail. Pronounced age and worry lines distinguish his face, making him look somewhat older than his years and accentuating his wild, serious eyes. Picture a loose cross between legendary British rocker Joe Cocker and his equally animated countryman, actor Oliver Reed, and you have Lange.
Greeting a visitor, Lange is at first all business and impatient as hell, talking in fits and starts between the incessant buzzing of an exceptionally loud office phone (which he ignores), the occasional ring of his cellular phone (which he doesn't) and the shrill report of his beeper. Amidst the hail of distractions, he crams in as much information as possible, like a death row inmate with a lengthy story to tell just hours before his execution.