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.

While Lange makes it clear that his dealings with clubs are non-contractual and operate purely on a good-faith basis, he's a little more vague when explaining how he keeps his bands in line. "I kind of semi-manage about 25 groups" is about all he'll say.

In other words, Lange signs exclusive agreements with the acts he cares about most, then depends on good, old-fashioned loyalty for the rest. It doesn't always work; he's constantly trying to collect on debts owed him by his less reliable clientele. His commission, after all, comes from the bands, not the owners of the clubs. Add what he loses by being stiffed by bands to the cash he sinks into his development projects, Lange says, and it becomes clear why he isn't as well off as he could be right now.

"I invest all my money in bands that I feel have potential," Lange claims. "We make good money here, but this is the music business -- I reinvest it all."

Recently, though, cash flow hasn't been much of a problem. Lange has entered into a partnership with Houston attorney Steven Charnquist, whose pockets seem as deep as his faith in the future prosperity of the DLP empire.

"Last year, Dennis and I put together -- conceptually put together -- a corporation that would act almost as an umbrella for other artists' organizations," says Charnquist, who claims to have "a real philanthropic nature when it comes to arts," citing his volunteer work for Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts as an example. "The idea was to create an association of companies who are dedicated to helping artists pursue their talents."

But just so no one gets the wrong idea, Charnquist is careful to point out that this is a business venture, one that could pay off handsomely for the folks involved. Charnquist has swooped in with the money to allow DLP the opportunity to expand. The first order of business involves moving the company out of its cramped semi-domestic environs and into a larger, newly renovated complex Charnquist has purchased just south of the Strip behind what used to be Dave's Back Yard. The structure will house all the components of the DLP empire, including offices for Elite Sound, the Dennis Lange Agency, Dennis Lange Management, Mega Productions, Media X Publicity, RAGE magazine and the new Molecular Records. Charnquist also hopes to turn unused office space into a cyber cafe and a showcase club.

Meanwhile, Molecular has just released its first CD, an all-original effort from the local thrash metal group Pitbull, which, not coincidentally, is led by Charnquist's brother Jeff. But Charnquist insists that nepotism won't be the trend at the new label. He and his new partner plan to look beyond family and friends for future projects.

As far as Lange can tell, he'll continue to live in the old house he now calls home and office, which marks the first time in decades that he'll live detached from his work. Getting the business offices out of the old building, says Lange, was as much a necessity as expanding his staff, which currently numbers a minuscule seven; things are just getting too complicated for such a concentrated existence.

"I'm in demand; 500 bands are not," says Lange. "I tell bands, 'Well okay, you're complaining about your money; you're moaning and groaning about a whole bunch of shit. But what are you doing for yourself? You're just showing up to the gig. That's not that big a deal. Are you promoting your shows? Are you bringing some business to these guys? Are they supposed to think you're the greatest? I can't make miracles here.' "

"You think I don't hear all the rumors and all the bullshit? It's stupid," he adds. "[The bands] are the ones to blame. I'm just the easy scapegoat in this town."

Maybe. But he's a scapegoat who has the power to change lives for the better -- and sometimes for the worse. Given that ultimate reality, Lange might want to think about locking his front door more often.

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