King of Richmond Strip

Dennis Lange has almost complete control of the most lucrative live music outlets in Houston. You want to play? Then you play his way.

But as the conversation wears on, Lange lets down his guard, easing into the loose, warm, somewhat animated character his friends describe him as being. Of course, those softer characteristics harden quickly when a problem arises. A phone blares or a beeper detonates, and Lange shifts back into his agent's guise -- part problem solver, part coach, part father figure, part tyrant.

"Yeah?" Lange answers his cell phone, fielding a call from a frazzled performer who's supposed to be on her way to Corpus Christi for a weekend gig. "Did what? About who? [A long silence.] It doesn't really matter, let's get over that petty stuff, and let's just get the flight, get down there and kick some ass, all right? Let's not worry about all these little details -- that's bullshit. Just come over and get the money, we'll get the airfare and we'll get you to Corpus. [More silence.] Come and get you where? Well, take a cab; just keep the receipts, please. Let's do it, let's be twice as professional as they are. You're 22 years old; I compliment you every day on how professional you are. Now, let's show them. Hello? Hello?"

The line goes dead.
"Every little fuckin' detail I'm supposed to take care of for them," Lange mutters. "Somebody's car broke down? Well, then, take a cab."

Lange is exasperated, but it doesn't last. He knows it could have been worse: He could be bailing a musician out of jail, or rushing to a pawn shop to retrieve a guitar he'd loaned someone the money to buy. Either scenario has been known to occur on a weekly basis.

Lange is not only a maker of careers, he's a maker of bands, turning out new artists and piecing together fresh groups from the remnants of old ones at a surprisingly efficient rate. His acts are known to have the finest sound equipment and lighting in town, the sharpest wardrobes and, if they so desire, enough dry ice to guarantee fog warnings before every gig. Safe, reliable, convenient entertainment has long been Lange's trademark, which is a big reason why nightclub owners swear by him.

Just inside the entrance to Dennis Lange Productions sits an assortment of bulky speaker cabinets, soundboards, lights and other stage accessories. They're stacked in a small, unfurnished area that at one time was probably a living room. Currently, it serves as Lange's Elite Sound Company, which deals in sound equipment rentals. A quick peek to the left reveals someone's loose idea of a reception area: a few fold-out tables, bookshelves in the back, two bulletin boards with nightclub calendars and phone numbers to call for accounting help and legal advice, a DLP employee or two glued to the phone.

Look right and peer into a dimly lit portion of the house, and you can just make out a kitchen bathed in the reddish neon glow of a beer sign. Beyond that are the living quarters of Lange and his housemate, Stacey Pokluda. That area is the only sanctuary from the steady parade of clients, customers, business associates and friends roving through the place. But even that small domestic retreat can be spoiled when Lange offers his den to a band looking for a place to crash for the night, something that happens more often than he'd care to admit.

A nervous energy courses through the place. You'd almost swear it was audible, like a beehive buzzing -- it's the industrious hum of success, and everyone's desire to be responsible for some of it. Lange's underlings are eager to impress, and why shouldn't they be? Their boss is, after all, the undisputed king of the Richmond Strip.

He's known as such by friends and enemies alike -- though the latter might consider him more godfather than royalty. Lange supporters like to argue that the love-him-or-loathe-him debate divides neatly down the middle, with those who have benefited -- or stand to benefit -- from Lange's influence singing his praises and those who haven't -- and likely never will -- eager to tear him down. That "us-versus-them" dynamic is crucial to the Dennis Lange myth. Locating the "us" is easy: Pro-Langers are everywhere, and they're easily accessible. Pinning down members of the "them" camp, however, isn't always such a cinch: Lange's staunchest critics are often reluctant to burn any bridges -- on the record, that is. After all, one never knows when Lange might come in handy. And many of those who are willing to badmouth Lange in print have gotten their dirt secondhand.

You don't have to dig far into Lange's business practices before you run across a surplus of rumors and claims of impropriety. But extra digging turns up precious little, if any, concrete evidence of those claims. Certainly, there are those musicians who'd just as soon see Lange take his business elsewhere. They contend that he's the worst sort of control freak, using his clout with club owners to keep bands he doesn't handle off his turf; that he caters to the nightclubs and cares little about his musicians; that he gives bands no other choice but to use his sound equipment and then charges them for it. Still, no one, it appears, has been outraged enough to go the distance: A review of Harris County Civil Court records turned up nothing in the way of lawsuits filed against Lange or his operation.

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