A radio DJ giving airplay to some of the state’s most overlooked artists seems particularly fond of pickers in the Fort Worth area, meaning under-the-radar kind of guys like Austin Allsup and James Michael Taylor get heard regularly by thousands of listeners. OK, the listeners are a half a world away and speak Swedish, but the artists don’t care. Many of them regularly send their CDs across the Atlantic to Bill Werngren, host of Bill’s Texas Bar, hoping he’ll add them to his playlist.
“It makes you feel good,” Taylor said. “It means you are on the radio. Songwriters aren’t picky about who listens to them.”
Werngren has been in town for the past week, seeing live shows and meeting some of the artists he features on Radio 88 from 7 to 9 p.m. GMT every Wednesday in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Werngren created the show two years ago for a local commercial radio station and has been introducing many of the city’s 500,000 residents to Texas Music ever since.
This is his third trip to Fort Worth. On this visit, he’s been staying at Taylor’s house on the East Side.
Werngren, 55, grew up in Sweden but listened to radio stations that played American music, including country artists such as Johnny Cash and George Jones. He also listened to his dad’s collection of country-and-western albums. Over the years, Werngren compiled his own collection of albums and cassettes and became known as an American country music expert. By day, Werngren is Gothenburg’s elections administrator, and his wife is the city’s mayor.
A couple of years ago, a Radio 88 employee asked if Werngren would be interested in hosting a country music show. He jumped at the chance, but with a caveat. He’d discovered a new type of country music and didn’t want play anything else. “I was more into the Red Dirt, new modern rock country thing,” he said recently while hanging out in Taylor’s home studio and listening to rough cuts from the singer-songwriter’s latest album in progress.
Werngren produced a 20-minute test show and received positive feedback from listeners. The station manager offered him an hour show but expressed concern that Werngren couldn’t fill the entire time slot with only Texas artists. The new host just laughed. Radio 88 hadn’t yet discovered what Werngren already knew –– Texas is overflowing with talent. “Now I have a two-hour show,” he said. “I get new stuff sent to me every week.”
I asked him to list his favorite Texas artists, and Werngren reeled off the first names that came to mind: Allsup, Taylor, Walt Wilkins, Bleu Edmondson, Casey Donahew, Houston Marchman, Kevin Welch, Dustin Perkins.
Notice a common thread running through those names? Most are from the Fort Worth area.
“When I discover new music from here, so many times I think, ‘Why isn’t this music played more? This is world class. Why don’t we listen to it in Europe?’ ” Werngren said.
His mission was to introduce Texas Music to Scandinavians. “I try to give them a new world to discover,” he said. “I have the feeling I’m on the top of a wave, and there is a tsunami behind me with all of these fabulous musicians here in Texas.”
Werngren glanced at Taylor. “James Michael Taylor is a universe unto himself,” Werngren said.
It’s fun, he went on, to be introduced to artists through their music, grow to respect and admire them through their songs, and then get to meet them in person in a faraway land. After Werngren announced on his website recently that he would be visiting Texas, Taylor contacted him through Facebook and offered to let him stay at his house. Is it odd to travel around the world to meet people and stay in their homes when they’re basically strangers (and who’s stranger than Taylor, after all)?
“It’s fun to discover new universes,” Werngren said. “I want to meet new people. I don’t want to meet people exactly like me, who have the same opinions and think the same.”
Besides, he said, “You can hear in the guy’s music that this is a good guy.”
Shows that Werngren checked out this past week include: Rachel Stacy & The Big Benders at White Elephant Saloon; Kimberly Kelly at Thirsty Armadillo; Mike Calaway and Mark Hickman at Roscoe’s Smokehouse in Burleson; Taylor, Rick Babb, and Lou Ann Petty at the Edom Arts Fest; and Guthrie Kennard at Mambo’s Tapas Cantina. The main difference he sees between Fort Worth and his Scandinavian hometown is the layout. Gothenburg is concentrated. Most residents rely on public transportation. Werngren and his wife don’t own a car.
“You’re so spread out here,” he said. “In Gothenburg, you don’t need a car. You take the streetcar or bus.”
What he liked most about Fort Worth was the people.
“The people are open-minded; everyone is polite,” he said. “They are curious about Sweden.”
He was eating in a restaurant during an arts festival on Sunday, when a customer overheard his accent and asked where he was from. When she learned Werngren was a DJ, she began telling him about her singing nephew, Tony Taylor, and promised to send Werngren a CD. No need, Werngren said –– he’d played a cut from the album the week before.
Bill’s Texas Bar doesn’t archive its shows online due to copyright issues, but Fort Worth listeners can catch the internet stream from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays at radio88.nu/listen.asx.