A new and improved Dennis? ... "It's the whole package -- you've got to have a package to get across," explains Dennis Lange from his cluttered office near the Richmond strip.
The package in question is for Lange's latest pet project, the Sheila Marshall Band. Lying on the desk in front of him is a black plastic container of promotional goodies that, from the outside, looks much like an oversize videotape rental box. The inside is filled with everything you'd want to know (and more) about Marshall, a Nacogdoches native with a volatile, over-the-top voice who's been imported to Houston with the help of the Dennis Lange Agency. Lange began grooming Marshall about a year ago, using his unmatched resources as Houston's premier peddler of live-music talent to both find the comely brunette a solid band and get her started working the very cover circuit over which he presides.
But Marshall fancies herself a songwriter -- always has. And now, with some 200 gigs under her belt, Lange believes she is ready to bust out as a purely original talent. "Sheila brought some songs to me," he says. "She's a very good songwriter, but she's still learning. This girl's got a lot of potential, man."
For once, Lange is putting his money where his mouth is. He has funded Marshall's latest EP, On Funky Chairs -- produced by Atomic Opera's Frank Hart with help from Galactic Cowboy Alan Doss -- and is using his pull to land the all-original Sheila Marshall Band gigs wherever he can. Of course, they'll continue to do cover gigs to bring in money and maintain their current "lifestyle," as Lange so eloquently puts it.
"I'm from Detroit, and I look at this operation as exactly like Motown," Lange says. "We provide everything. This girl's ready to launch."
Sounds like some turnaround for the King of the Richmond Strip, the scourge of every self-respecting original musician in Houston who'd work days at Taco Bell rather than compromise his art in the name of "lifestyle." From a purely business standpoint, Lange would have every right to be reluctant to put his ass on the line, especially seeing as his last two original projects were busts. And, given Chairs' competent if unextraordinary groove rock and Marshall's sometimes grating, Alanis-meets-Janis delivery, this package is hardly a sure bet.
Even so, Lange is funneling significant time and energy into his new cause, leaving the day-to-day operations of the agency to others so he can focus on Marshall and other acts for his upstart Molecular Records label. He's also responsible for luring quality original bands from all over the region to the Outback Pub on a weekly basis. And that, of course, affords Marshall additional showcase opportunities.
Come July -- if all goes as planned -- Lange and his partner, moneyed attorney and Houston music advocate Steven Charnquist, will be moving into their self-contained music and entertainment Camelot, of sorts. An artfully designed and renovated brick office building located just a few blocks from Lange's current digs, the facility will house DLA and all of its promotional offshoots, Molecular headquarters, a recording studio, a nightclub, a cafe, Charnquist's law firm, a merchandise shop open to local music of all kinds, a guest house and maybe even a small radio station.
"I want to break six [original] bands before the year is over," says Lange. "Then we'll be an entity."
Six bands in eight months? Isn't that a little too optimistic?
"Why?" he responds, frowning like a dreamer slighted.
For an instant, Lange's sincerity would have anyone believing he'll pull it off. And who knows? Maybe it all will come to pass. Then again, there's the real possibility that King Dennis will be back ruling over his cover empire full-time within months, stewing over how he should've trusted his instincts. After all, lifestyle is a terrible thing to waste.
-- Hobart Rowland
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