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Mannheim Steamroller

Mannheim Steamroller

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. After his independently released 1974 debut Fresh Aire became a hit in the audiophile world, Davis spent the next decade expanding his brand. 1984's massively popular Mannheim Steamroller Christmas was the release that broke Davis' project into the mainstream and subsequent holiday-themed releases and annual tours ensured that Mannheim Steamroller would remain a perennial Yuletide staple well into the 21st century. In addition to the Fresh Aire and Christmas series are albums devoted to the natural world and even a set of Halloween collections.

Born in Sylvania, Ohio, 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, 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, Nebraska 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, was released as the soundtrack for 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. In the early '90s, Davis began recording under his own name for the first time, although he continued to maintain the wildly successful Mannheim Steamroller name and produced many more Christmas-themed albums, further Fresh Aire projects, and even several Halloween-themed collections during the 2000s. With 19 gold records and many more platinum and multi-platinum certifications to his credit, Davis' Mannheim Steamroller (along with U2, Jay-Z, and the Beach Boys) is one of the most decorated artists in the entire recording industry. Along with the orchestra's annual holiday tours, Davis has also written five children's books and continues to produce music and has expanded the Mannheim Steamroller franchise with a line of apparel, food, gifts, and other products. After 2019's Exotic Spaces, Davis celebrated the 20th anniversary of his chart-topping 2001 set Christmas Extraordinaire with an expanded edition title Mannheim Steamroller Extraordinaire. ~ Jason Ankeny & Timothy Monger

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