The Dallas music community lost a giant Saturday when Bill Wisener, the longtime owner of Bill’s Records, was found dead behind the register he’d manned for nearly 40 years.
Wisener was a chain-smoker and had battled health issues over the last several years.
Though a sign on the door of his South Lamar shop simply stated that the store was closed “due to unforeseen circumstances,” a small tribute started growing as regular customers stopped by to see if the rumors were true.
Wisener first opened his store in 1981 on Spring Valley Road in north Dallas.
“It was huge. It was the biggest record store you ever saw in your life. It was like an acre. It was just millions of records,” said Creative Director of the Kessler Theater Jeffrey Liles.
Liles said he first met Wisener as a kid.
He said their friendship began to blossom when Wisener brought him a bass after Liles mentioned a flier he’d found advertising a band auditioning for a new member.
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Liles not only got the spot, he continued to frequent Bill’s, which he said always felt like home. It was a sentiment shared by hundreds of other young musicians looking to get their start.
“It became like the center of gravity for the music community in Dallas. When independent music first started to make its move and kind of become mainstream, and local artists started to make their own records, Bill’s was where you took your record to introduce it to the public,” said Liles.“For a kid who played in a garage band who may have found a way into the studio to make a record or whatever, to get it out and have it for sale at Bill’s was a huge deal. It was enough to make you choose this for a living, you know.”
That’s why several years ago, Liles produced a documentary for Wisener called “The Last Record Store.”
In addition to sharing Wisener’s impact on those looking to start a career, the film highlighted the Dallas store’s tenacity as the Internet changed the game for record companies and the stores that sold music.
“They all disappeared. You know? And for this one guy to hang on till 2020 through all that, you know? That’s a miraculous thing in and of itself. He was a legacy still here while the rest of the business died before he did,” said Liles.
Friends will remember Wisener with a wake at the Kessler Theater on Sunday at 9 p.m.