Dave L. Miller & Somerset Records
If you’re a collector of vinyl then how many times have you poured over bins full of picked over long plays and had to push copy after copy of recordings by “101 Strings” out of the your way . They annoy me to no end.
But I have to admit I have never placed one on a turntable. I have most likely listened to some partial cuts somewhere in a department store or an elevator – maybe the dentist’s office – gosh knows where – but I have never laid down a single dollar for one – not even for “101 Strings Plays the Hits of the Beatles”.
But in my recent readings Miller turned up twice – both in the biography of Bill Haley and in Dick Clark’s “Rock, Roll and Remember”. Miller was from Philadelphia. He started Essex Records and thus his signing of Bill Haley’s groups – The Saddlemen, and then The Comets. Clark makes references to a curious Miller undertaking, the establishment of Somerset Records. Clark states “After coming up with hits by The Four Aces, Al Martino and Bill Haley, Miller came up with the idea for ‘101 String’. The ‘101 Strings’ was a guy Dave had in Philadelphia who did arrangements and the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Miller had the music arranged, recorded it inexpensively in Germany, pressed the records in a pressing plant he had in an old plush mill outside of Philadelphia, and became a multimillionaire.”
There is of course a bit more to the story, such as a few other orchestras serving as “101 Strings” for Miller but bottom line is he became very rich with a niche market product. According to Wikipedia Miller distributed through non-mainstream retail sources selling his records for under a dollar to the vendors who in turn moved them for under two bucks. The Somerset label was eventually sold and later evolved into the label “Alshire”.
Four “101 Strings” releases actually charted in the U.S. The first was “The Soul of Spain” in 1959 (peaking at #9 and charting for 58 weeks), followed by “The Soul of Spain Volume II” (#21 – 19 weeks), “101 Strings Play the Blues” (#46 – 15 weeks) and finally “Concerto Under the Stars” (#104 for 13 weeks).
I guess I should have realized that the pesky “The Soul of Spain” must have been a big seller – wading through so many copies in so many garage sales!