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.

"Maybe they're just scared," says Rozz Zamorano, a veteran of the Houston music scene who's had past associations with DLP. "If they do [file a suit], they might never get a gig on the Richmond Strip again."

Still, there are those willing to talk about how leery they are of Lange's influence, and how he flexes it.

"What I've heard and what I've seen have not been all that great," says Fish, leader of the classic-rock party band Flashback, which struggles to succeed outside the Lange umbrella. Fish had his brush with DLP two years ago, when Flashback performed at a Richmond Strip club as part of the weekly Dennis Lange Showcase, an audition ritual designed to discover fresh talent worthy of Lange's attention. "As soon as we got done, the girl said, 'We'd love to have you,' " Fish recalls. "And we said, 'Well, what do you have to offer us?' "

According to Fish, the proposal went something like this: Flashback would ease into the lucrative weekend trade gradually, playing at Lange-booked clubs Mondays to Thursdays for six months, "until we got established." In exchange for its services, DLP would collect 15 to 20 percent of the band's earnings nightly, depending on whether they performed at a nightclub or a private party (the latter usually involves bigger money). That didn't sit well with Flashback. They wanted to play weekends only. And besides, they'd been told to be wary of Lange.

"I'd heard that you have to pay him to rent a soundman and PA, even if you have your own," says Fish. "We didn't need to do that; we had a great system -- a light show, a PA."

"But we might want to use him in the future," Fish adds, suddenly turning judicious. "We'd still like him to help us get gigs."

Not every anti-Lange advocate has had a brush with the DLP entertainment machine. Greg Wood, lead singer for Horseshoe, a band proud of making original music, can only go by what he's learned through the grapevine. And what he's heard makes him shudder. In Wood's view, Lange's "business first" stance promotes the worst sort of inertia -- the creative kind.

"I don't associate with the devil," he says simply.
And neither does Rozz Zamorano, not since nine years ago, when his band at the time, the Quick, was shortchanged by a club owner and DLP failed to come to their aid.

"We got stiffed twice," says Zamorano, who is now with the Fondue Monks. "My feeling toward that is when some type of conflict happens, Dennis will not side with the band. He definitely sided with the club. So it can work for you or against you."

Try as he may, though, Zamorano can't seem to shake Lange's influence. The Fondue Monks, for instance, are regulars at the Daiquiri Factory, though never on weekends, as Lange has a lock on the prime times at that Richmond Strip club. Zamorano also claims his band lost a string of Saturday dates at the Crooked Ferret, a venue west of downtown on Jones Road, when Lange threatened to pull his acts out of the place if the owner didn't continue to stay with DLP on weekends. (Lange denies this, and Crooked Ferret owners Steve and Laurie Virgil failed to return repeated phone calls from the Press.)

It's Friday afternooN, and while no one is snoozing on the leather sofa in Dennis Lange's den/crash pad, DLP is hardly the hotbed of activity you might expect from a business that's defined by the weekends. Things may seem a bit slow, but Lange gives his assurance that an empty office simply means his people are where they're supposed to be -- out doing their jobs. Friday and Saturday nights are when you're likely to find the highest concentration of Lange's bands out and about, working the stages around Houston.

Aside from her role as DLP's resident den mother, the tall, rail-thin Stacey Pokluda, a carbon-haired beauty with striking brown eyes, handles band publicity and is managing editor of RAGE (Richmond Avenue Guide to Entertainment), a monthly nightlife tabloid Lange started a few years back to promote his acts. RAGE is a clever bit of business on Lange's part, and a tad deceptive as well, considering that most casual readers would never know that the publication is merely a glorified press release for DLP artists.

RAGE and Mega Productions, the latter a new DLP offshoot that books national touring talent for Houston events, share a slightly more private office toward the rear of Lange's house. Their boss's cramped workspace is right down the hall. The place has the feel of an upscale commune, and seeing as Lange is an aging ex-hippie, that suits him just fine.

On a typical work day, Lange rolls out of bed sometime after 1 p.m. His work routinely keeps him up until four in the morning -- or, if not work, then a game of cards with last-minute houseguests or a visit from a girlfriend. At 45, Lange is still living the life of a man in his early twenties, eating out practically every meal, often for free at the restaurants and nightclubs he books. When he's not at the house, Lange is usually out on the Strip monitoring his bands, checking out the shows, troubleshooting. What little leisure time he has he spends traveling or, perhaps, club-hopping with a few pals. Lange has never married and admits that he tends to date women much younger than himself, though he denies any romantic involvement between himself and Pokluda.

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