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.

Still, there's something infinitely more interesting about a handful of warm bodies up there on-stage, laying into their instruments and putting on a show, a more human appeal that many club owners swear increases customer draw significantly -- or at least Lange has many of them convinced it does. They see bands as a mood enhancer, an ambiance booster. It's not so much who is playing on a given night, but rather that someone is playing. And Lange makes the logistics of live entertainment as simple as possible for the nightclubs.

"He's almost like a partner," says Mark Beyer, co-owner of the Outback Pub, who's been relying on DLP for six years. "We have creative meetings at least once a month, where we go over who's hot and who's not. As long as it's good, we'll do it."

The Outback, which features live music six to seven nights a week, relies almost exclusively on Lange's acts, as Beyer believes they should. "Everything is a consideration, but Dennis is the agent," Beyer says.

With Lange's encouragement, the Outback has even gone so far as to charge a $2 cover, a move almost unheard of on the Strip and one that allows the bar to entice out-of-town talent with bigger money. So far, says Beyer, the patrons aren't complaining. "People are willing to pay a few dollars to see some top-level entertainment," he says.

Top-level cover entertainment, that is. "Instead of just being an artistic form, it's also a business," Beyer admits. "If everybody wanted to listen to originals, there would be a hell of a lot more original clubs, and there's just not that many. I think there's some outstanding original acts in town, we just haven't gotten the consumer used to them yet."

Lange has his favorites among the acts he handles. They might be artists in whom he sees unique potential, a certain commercial spark, if you will. Or they might simply be the ones raking in the most money at the moment. On a crowded Wednesday night at the Outback Pub, Lange is surrounded by a few of those cash cows, not to mention a bunch of nobodies who just want to say hello. Phone in one hand and beeper clipped to his pocket, Lange makes the rounds, checking in with Rat Ranch, the band headlining that night, who are on a break when he walks in. Becky Stacey, elfin lead singer of the DLP creation Cloud 6, is reclining on a sofa nearby, oblivious to the Outback's hard-core meat-market surroundings. She smiles and waves -- it's a thank-you smile, as Lange has recently loaned her the money to make a car payment.

Feisty, full-throated, attractive females are in demand right now, according to Lange. So when he met Stacey while she was working as a waitress at the Daiquiri Factory and discovered she had a voice, Lange assembled a band just for her. He did the same for Sheila Marshall, a spunky belter who was going backward fast in Nacogdoches and who now has a regular slot with a full band at Sherlock's Pub.

Cloud 6 and Sheila Marshall are among the acts into which Lange pumps extra time and money in the hope that they might one day pay off big. There is a particular elite in the DLP organization, an elite of acts that is privy to preferential treatment. For a musician, that treatment may involve an actual management contract, or it may involve something as casual as a little business advice every now and then.

"The idea," says Lange, "is to make the bands roadworthy." And when an act gets to that point, it graduates to the big time -- or the DLP version of it, anyway. Lange will send them out on mini-tours throughout Texas and elsewhere, and when the time is right, ship them off to hotels and military bases in Japan, Asia and Europe. "These bands can make $4,000 to $5,000 a week or more," he says. "The whole thing is a turnkey deal -- serious bucks."

Toy Subs, perennial winners in the Press Music Awards' Best Cover Band category, are one of Lange's projects. Apparently, the band was on the verge of breaking up in January, its leader worried that he wasn't devoting enough time to his original material. A good pep talk and a few roster changes later, Toy Subs were back afloat.

"I have a new philosophy for the band about getting them on the road and making them popular in ... Lubbock, Abilene, El Paso," he says. "This plan is already in motion. They already went on the road and came back a total success. I'm trying to help these acts with the cash flow business of being in a cover band. It's a baby-sitting job, for sure. But I light fires under people's asses to get out of them what they got. If they have talent, great; don't just talk about your original project for the next three years. Show me something."

Toy Subs also has an original music project, Shed. But Lange is very specific in his assertion that he is handling the band's "cover operation." "Sure, I'll invest in [original acts], if they impress me with their stuff. But you don't have to be a songwriter to be an entertainer," he says. "There's a bunch of lazy people [who] are all talk and not enough action. I'm full of action. I'm developing bands to play Memphis, Atlantic City, Reno, Louisiana casinos, ski resorts. It's a lifestyle -- a beautiful lifestyle."

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