Join us for a special night celebrating Bill Wisener’s 75th Birthday!
Performances by Cottonmouth, TX and more TBA!
Cottonmouth, Texas will be doing a historical tribute to the great indie record stores of Dallas.
Owner of Bill’s Records & Tapes, Bill Wisener, set up a booth at Garland’s Vikon Village flea market in 1973. The crates of used vinyl he hauled with him every weekend in the early days, from the Garland home he shared with his beloved mother to Vikon Village, formed the beginnings of his obsessions.
Eventually, he rented 19 booths at the flea market, while operating a more traditional store, starting at a spot on McKinney and Routh, before moving to Lower Greenville Avenue. He sold things like marble-top washstands, but the items that really interested him were the records and the bits of pop ephemera, like Beatles lunchboxes.
That interest became Bill’s Records in 1981, in the Northwood Hills Shopping Center, near the corner of Spring Valley and Coit roads. Over time, almost every nook and cranny of more than 8,000 square feet of retail space was filled with import CDs from England, 12-inch dance singles from Chicago and New York, and concert t-shirts and posters from all over, cemented together, from the looks of it, with old cardboard. From the outside, it had the persistent look of having been recently, and thoroughly, ransacked. But there was an order to it, a pattern that revealed itself upon further inspection.
People came in, and they never really left. Ask former employees and the legions of his customer followers, and they will credit him with broadening their tastes. His friend Stanley Marcus gave Wisener his collection of 78s before he died. Jerry Haynes, Mr. Peppermint himself, was a regular. The late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith made the trip north when he was growing up in Duncanville. Ben Harper (best known outside college radio circles as Mr. Laura Dern) came by after a show at Club Dada and ended up spending all night there, forging a friendship that led Harper to fly Wisener to Paris for a week, just to hang out. It wasn’t just bold-faced names. They came to him. They all did.
Radiohead spent four hours there, giddily combing through the racks, before eventually catching a ride to their gig with one of Bill’s employees. The Beastie Boys would make Bill’s a must-go-to stop. N.W.A.’s Eazy-E, Nine Inch Nails, the Geto Boys, Weezer, Suede, Professor Grif, LeAnn Rimes, Jello Biafra, Daniel Johnston, David Crosby, and countless more all would make extended pilgrimages to the store. Bill would engage in lengthy phone calls with Stevie Wonder and The Cure.
26 years later, the popularity of streaming and internet-based purchasing would lead to the downsizing of the store–forcing decades of collecting to be hidden away in storage while the current, smaller store is reborn near South Side on Lamar.
Erykah Badu would host her birthday party at the new store. Bill would get invited to a Dallas appearance by President Barack Obama, who’s vinyl gifted from Bill’s would later appear in an Architectural Digest photo spread of the First Family’s decor at the White House. Bill’s longtime friend, Ben Harper, would make return visits.
Today, Bill’s Records is still open. Yet another documentary about Bill and his store is in the works. And everyday you’ll still find Bill behind the counter, blessed to have years of friends and devoted customers frequent the store to dig through the treasures he’s curated from decades of collection and to listen to stories of a lifetime of experiences.