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.

"People don't go to see cover bands," Pitzer sniffs. "The groups may enhance the draw, but it's not like the Urban Art Bar or the [Fabulous] Satellite [Lounge], where people go just to hear the music. But Dennis is tied into the market. He has to go with what works."

And what seems to work in Houston now is cover music. There's a place for it in every U.S. city, and in Texas, it's no different: Dallas has the cover-heavy West End to counter its largely original scene in Deep Ellum; on Austin's famed Sixth Street, cover bands often compete with groups playing their own music for the clubgoer's attention; and in San Antonio, the River Walk is cover-music central. Still, the fact that Houston is lacking its own Deep Ellum or Sixth Street where original bands can congregate and thrive may go a long way toward explaining why Lange is seen by many supporters of original music bands as the antichrist of the local scene.

"If a Dennis Lange got on the Richmond Strip and really sold original music, it would make it," insists Alice Romero, whose Sonic Sensations agency manages local original acts Horseshoe, Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds and others. "They've got everything there, if they would just back original music and didn't cop out for cover bands."

But Casey Monahan, head of the governor's Texas Music Office in Austin, isn't as sure as Romero that all original music needs is a Dennis Lange behind it. "People would go out to hear original music more if they heard it on the radio," Monahan says. "Casual music fans do not want to risk seeing a band whose music they might not like."

Then, of course, there's the simple night-to-night logistics of the business. "What original band could play at Sam's Boat from 9:30 to 1:30 in the morning and hold a crowd?" asks Lange. "The bands have got a confused idea of what's going on. There are places all over the world that want to hear cover music; they don't want to hear original bands. And those are the places I book, simply because they're the only places that can pay. So I keep my original projects working in cover music bands so they can repay recording money or repay their bass loan or whatever."

Even so, Romero contends, "I don't think Dennis helps the music scene, because he allows the musicians to cop out. Bands go for it because they need to pay their bills."

Dan Golvach has been managing to do just that -- and more -- since 1984, when he joined Blue Blazes, the cover band that put Lange on the map in Houston. The guitarist was also a member of the once-popular original/cover act Zen Archer and is currently leading an acoustic trio called the Hooligans, which plays weekly at Sam's Boat. When he was younger, Golvach, 34, toured overseas, staying in fancy resorts. Eventually that ended, and today he makes a comfortable living teaching guitar during the day and playing covers at night. And in large part, he has Lange to thank for keeping him employed all these years.

"To me, what he does makes sense," Golvach says. "He's a businessman. What we have is a business agreement. We are supplying a service to a clientele."

But isn't that part of what irritates some folks about Lange -- that he's all business, often at the expense of originality?

"Now, isn't that just the way life is," says Golvach testily. "I'm a songwriter and I'd like to do my originals all day, and it's real funny how I've had these sanctimonious, self-righteous guys who play in nothing but original bands point their fingers at me. But what do they do all day? They work in a record store. At least I'm playing my guitar."

Monahan tends to side with Golvach. "Many bands that play original music diss cover bands and the people who see them, which I think is shortsighted in that they are working musicians getting a good paycheck," he says. "It's convenient to scapegoat mainstream tastes and the businesses that cater to them. When I hear a band -- or anybody in the music business -- talking trash about cover bands, I see energy wasted that could be better spent working for one's music."

To the DLP camp, it all comes back to supply and demand: If you want to blame anyone for Houston's iffy reputation as an original music town, don't blame Dennis Lange. Blame the audience.

"Dennis is a salesman, and he's going to sell people what they're buying," says Tyler Flood, a former employee of Pace Concerts who recently traded loyalties to work with Lange. "If original music was what people wanted to see on the Richmond Strip, then he wouldn't book any cover bands."

There is some validity to the contention that the Richmond Strip wouldn't have much of a live music scene at all -- cover bands or otherwise -- if it weren't for Lange, that many club owners would just as soon stick a DJ in a corner and blare Top 40 hits and dance music all night than have to pay upward of $1,000 an evening for a band.

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