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 did his job as a hired musician and he did it well, and that's about it," Fish says. Fish adds that Dunlap may have "come and gone a couple of times," as a road replacement, but that his involvement with the band was brief.

With regard to Dunlap's assertions that he actually wrote some of the Commodores' biggest hits, but was not credited by band members, Fish responds, "He's full of shit. He's just a big talker. He likes to talk, but can he back up any of those claims? I don't think so."

One person who does believe Dunlap is Trudy Reynolds, the Los Angeles-based artist manager who, along with her ex-husband Michael, handled Dunlap's career from 1988 to 1997.

Lymus Middleton works nights at Circle K and aspires to make it in show 
Paolo Vescia
Lymus Middleton works nights at Circle K and aspires to make it in show business.

"I know his talent and his style of writing, and when you hear the kinds of songs someone writes, you can identify them," she says.

Music industry trade reports confirm that by the time Reynolds began working with Dunlap, he'd carved out a modest place in the music industry as a producer and writer. He'd co-written and produced three songs for the 1984 debut album by R&B diva Cherrelle. Though none of Dunlap's songs were hits, the album was successful and it contained Cherrelle's signature tune "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On."

Reynolds' years with Dunlap were his most consistently productive. Splitting his time between Los Angeles, Chicago and his mother's home in Mesa, Dunlap found himself working on a regular basis. He wrote music for Michael Landon's TV series Highway to Heaven, scored a gritty urban thriller called Street Wars and cranked out commercial jingles. He even connected with the ascendant hip-hop scene, playing keyboards on a 1992 album by rapper Kid Frost.

In 1997, Reynolds and her husband split up, and Michael Reynolds took over control of Dunlap's career. However, Dunlap quickly had a falling-out with Michael Reynolds, and severed their business relationship, according to Trudy Reynolds.

"What I heard from Michael Dunlap was that he did some work on some demos and was going to be reimbursed by management. But what I heard from my ex-husband is that he didn't get the product in time and it blew the deal. I can see both sides of it."

Whoever was to blame for the blowout between Dunlap and Reynolds, Dunlap apparently referred to the incident when he sought new investors. Mark Hites couldn't understand why a seemingly well-connected musician like Dunlap would want a show-biz novice like himself as a manager.

"I asked him from the git-go, 'Why do you need me? You could pick up the phone and call many a Hollywood agent who would actually know what he's doing.'"

He says Dunlap told him that he'd been screwed by previous management, and he felt less likely to be cheated by someone with no experience in the business.

"That made sense to me. I figured, 'Once burned, twice shy.' And I'm not going to question someone who's offering me a golden opportunity."

Hites' first brush with Dunlap was three years ago. Dunlap was severing his connection with Michael Reynolds and spending more time in the Valley. He was trying to reignite his career.

One of Hites' friends, a driver for the limo company Mercedes Transportation, told Hites that he had Michael Dunlap of the Commodores booked for the next two weeks. Hites didn't recognize Dunlap's name, but he'd always loved the Commodores, so he excitedly asked his friend to get an autograph for him. That night Hites' friend came back with an autographed sheet of paper. Scribbled out was a brief message: "Mark, stay cool."

Two and a half years later, Dunlap showed up at the Dream Palace with an older man. Hites didn't know who he was, but both men were dressed up, so he gave them the VIP treatment.

He says Dunlap asked if anyone famous ever came into the club.

Hites responded, "Yeah, we've had Mike Tyson, Tom Cruise, and a couple of people from the wrestling industry."

Dunlap inquired if there were any others.

Hites thought for a second, and answered that he'd once gotten an autograph from Michael Dunlap of the Commodores.

Hites says Dunlap leaned forward and whispered that he was Michael Dunlap of the Commodores.

Hites was thrilled. The mere mention of the band's name left him star struck. The two men chatted for four hours that night. Hites says Dunlap asked to meet him for lunch the next day, so that they could discuss a possible business venture.

According to Hites, Dunlap said he had big-time offers, but he needed some money to complete his recording work. That's where Hites could fit in. If he could supply some money and business help, he could win the job of Dunlap's manager. If Hites could be his mouthpiece within the industry, he could have 20 percent of anything Dunlap made.

It wasn't long before Hites realized that he wasn't the only prospective manager. Dunlap had him competing against various other people, including a local businessman and a 57-year-old cocktail waitress named Tiffany Pylé, who worked at the adult nightclub Tiffany's. Hites says Dunlap used this competition to spur him on, telling him that he needed to work harder and invest more money if he really wanted the job.

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