Best known for producing innovative Christmas music albums, Mannheim Steamroller (the musical moniker for classically trained composer Chip Davis) has become one of the world's most influential and beloved instrumental acts. Of Mannheim Steamrollers' 36 million album sales, over 20 million of those sold have been Christmas albums--making Davis' music a holiday staple in many households worldwide. Davis started composing in a style he called "18th Century classical rock" in the mid '70s, recording the album Fresh Aire in 1975. The style--classical music played with electric bass and synthesizers--proved a little too novel for the mainstream market, so Davis created his own music label, American Gramaphone, and distributed his album to audio showrooms rather than record stores. His music became an instant hit with audiophiles (who frequented such showrooms) worldwide. Mainstream success finally came in the form of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, Davis' first holiday album, which surprised the music industry by selling over 5 million copies. This groundbreaking hybrid sound of classical rock would ultimately be the precursor to the phenomenally successful new age music movement.
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In-depth Biography The alias of composer Chip Davis, Mannheim Steamroller was among the pioneers of neo-classical electronic music, emerging as one of the driving forces behind the new age phenomenon. Born in Sylvania, OH, Davis' father was a high school music teacher, while his mother was a trombonist with Phil Spitalny's All Girl Orchestra. His grandmother was his first music teacher, giving the child his initial piano lessons at the age of four; two years later, Davis composed his first piece, a four-part chorale written in honor of his dog. He later joined a boys' choir as well, and while attending the University of Michigan, played bassoon in the school's concert band. Upon graduating in 1969, Davis was tapped to tour with the Norman Luboff Choir; after five years with the group, performing everything from pop to classical, he returned to Sylvania to teach music at the local junior high school, often adapting classical standards to contemporary harmonies and rhythms for student consumption.
Davis later left teaching, arranging and conducting an Omaha, NB production of Hair before accepting a job writing advertising jingles. With co-worker Bill Fries, he created the enormously popular C.W. McCall character, later the figure behind the chart-topping hit "Convoy." As the McCall craze went into high gear, however, Davis returned to the classical adaptations he'd first composed as a teacher, and soon entered the studio to begin recording what he dubbed "18th century classical rock" -- classical music performed on electric bass and synthesizers. He titled the resulting album Fresh Aire, and when no label would touch it, he founded his own company, American Gramaphone, in 1974, creating a fictitious band named Mannheim Steamroller to better promote the project. Davis initially marketed Fresh Aire to stereo show rooms, where his state-of-the-art sound proved ideal for demonstrating home stereo equipment; the LP became a smash hit among audiophiles, and a series of popular Fresh Aire sequels followed in the years to come.
In 1984, Davis issued Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, which shocked onlookers by selling over five million copies on the strength of a Top 40 Adult Contemporary rendition of "Deck the Halls." It was followed four years later by A Fresh Aire Christmas, another unqualified hit. The environment informed 1986's Saving the Wildlife, the soundtrack to a PBS special, and was followed three years later by Yellowstone: The Music of Nature, which raised over half a million dollars for the National Parks Service. Although in the early '90s Davis began recording under his own name for the first time, he also maintained the Mannheim Steamroller guise for a series of seasonal recordings, among them 1995's Christmas in the Aire, 1997's Christmas Live and 1998's Christmas Angel: A Family Story. 1999's two-disc 25 Years celebrated Mannheim Steamroller's silver anniversary. Continuing with their Fresh Aire series, volume eight was released in mid-2000. The albums Romantic Melodies and American Spirit came in 2003. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi