Commodore of Errors

Virtuoso musician Michael Dunlap inspired the show-business dreams of many people. Now, they say he's walked away with their money.

He says Dunlap responded angrily, saying he'd be at Dream Palace that night with Hites' money, and that would mark the end of their relationship.

Hites says Dunlap didn't show up that night. A few days later, Hites reached Dunlap on the phone, and the musician acted like he'd never met him. Hites was tired and angry.

He told Dunlap that what really infuriated him was that Dunlap was using his musical talent to cheat people. He says that Dunlap warned him to watch his back, because he didn't realize who he was messing with.

Dunlap brings horror and hip-hop together as Commander McBride.
Dunlap brings horror and hip-hop together as Commander McBride.
Mark Hites is a club bouncer who thought he'd found a golden 
opportunity when he met Dunlap.
Paolo Vescia
Mark Hites is a club bouncer who thought he'd found a golden opportunity when he met Dunlap.

Hites isn't the only one who's angry about their business relationship with Dunlap. One local businessman says he blew $2,000 and countless hours of time on Dunlap. One self-employed limo driver says he was stiffed for more than $1,200 in rides, and temporarily lost his apartment. And one local music-biz aspirant says he squandered more than $5,000 on Dunlap.

New Times talked to a half-dozen people who say that they trusted Dunlap. Some gave him hundreds and even thousands of dollars they hoped would provide them entree into the music business.

Dunlap did not respond to New Times' requests for an interview, which included numerous messages on his pager and a business card left at the east Mesa home he shares with his mother. However, New Times did speak with friends of Dunlap, people who continue to believe that he is not only enormously gifted, but also a man of integrity.

To hear Dunlap's ex-manager, Trudy Reynolds, tell it, Dunlap is simply a misunderstood artist.

"In my nine years with Michael, I never knew him to tell a lie, not even a white lie," Reynolds says. "The only thing in the whole world that Michael wants to do is be in the studio and write music. He's like a 9-year-old child. As long as he's in the studio and he's got some instruments and you get him some pizza, he'll write music and be happy."

Most of the people New Times talked to who gave money to Dunlap are hard workers with big dreams. They are blue-collar workers, 35 and up, who are wearing themselves out in multiple dead-end jobs, but cling to fantasies of making it in the entertainment industry. He's inspired and excited these people, then, they say, left them hanging, considerably lighter in the wallet than when he met them. All promises aside, Doctor Bombay has failed to pay anyone's bills.

"He's a con from the word 'go,'" says Hites' hilariously crusty 82-year-old father. "He can put it on with a butter knife, I'll tell you."

Michael Dunlap usually makes a good first impression. People who know him say he's gregarious and confident, with an easy warmth, a knack for making complete strangers feel that they're his best friend. Even people who don't know anything about his résumé rave about the star presence they sense when they meet him.

Three years after the fact, Lymus Middleton still beams when he talks about the night he met Dunlap.

Middleton, 48, works nights as a clerk at the Circle K on 34th Street and Van Buren. All his life, he's dreamed of making it in show business. He says that he sang for years with the local group Stan Devereaux and Spice. He's also managed some film work as an extra, most notably as a crowd member in Rocky, cheering on his second cousin, former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Middleton was raised in Beaufort, South Carolina, just down the street from Frazier. He says that Frazier even helped build his family's house.

Middleton is tall and thin, with processed hair and a Charlie Chan mustache. He's soft-spoken and kind, with an almost old-world politeness about him. During the past year, he's shuffled from place to place, with no consistent home, and the large bags under his eyes suggest that he's often gone without sleep.

Middleton met Dunlap in 1997, on karaoke night at Melody Lounge in Tempe. Middleton got up and sang the Stylistics' 1974 hit "You Make Me Feel Brand New." He can't remember the tune that Dunlap sang, but what's indelibly imprinted on his memory is the stage presence that this huge man had. Dunlap acted like he owned the stage. He didn't just sing a song, he acted out every emotion.

"He sounded so professional," Middleton says. "I had to go over and meet him. He told me he liked my voice. He told me that he sang with the Commodores. After introducing myself, being all nervous and everything, I said, 'Maybe we can do something together someday.'"

Dunlap sounded interested. The two men talked about music for the rest of the night, finally exchanging phone numbers and wishing each other well with a familial embrace. From that point on, Middleton called Dunlap "Big Brother."

They went into the Salt Mine recording studio together, recording nine songs that Dunlap had written. The tracks were earmarked for a variety of projects that Dunlap planned on pitching to record companies. Dunlap sang lead, and Middleton sang back-up.

"It was good stuff," Middleton says. "Everyone always said our voices sounded so sweet together."

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