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Mannheim Steamroller Biography

Though few may admit to having heard of them, Mannheim Steamroller can boast of being one of the biggest US acts of the 80s, 90s and 00s - at least while snow covers the ground and children leave out roasted chestnuts for Santa and his reindeer. The act was the creation of Chip Davis (Louis Davis Jnr., 15 November 1947, Sylvania, Ohio, USA). On graduating from the University Of Michigan in 1969, Davis toured as a drummer with the Norman Luboff Choir for five years before becoming a teacher in his native Sylvania. He left the profession, however, to arrange an Omaha, Nebraska production of Hair, before finding work as a jingle writer. Flushed by the success of his collaboration with William Fries, 1975’s hit single ‘Convoy’ (credited to C.W. McCall), jingle-writer Chip Davis invested his share of the royalties from the song and attendant film in a home studio and ‘sound laboratory’ complex.

Mannheim Steamroller, and the attendant American Gramaphone label, was created with the help of a few friends, and the group made its debut in 1975 with the first of the Fresh Aire series. In a bold marketing move, Davis distributed the albums to record shops demonstrating new audio equipment. His methods were justified commercially as the album, and each successive release in the series, went on to be certified gold. The albums are now considered to be pioneering releases in the history of Adult Contemporary or New Age music. Davis made another shrewd move in 1984 when he released Christmas, a reworking of traditional festive fare with rock and classical elements, which became a huge hit, selling over four million copies. Four years passed before Davis decided to repeat the formula with A Fresh Aire Christmas, which duly notched up another four million sales.

Buoyed by this success, Davis began to take a working version of Mannheim Steamroller out on tour during November and December of every year for a series of sell-out concerts. In addition, he expanded his record label to sign well-known MOR artists such as Mike Post, America and John Denver. He also released a series of solo ‘mood’ albums, including one that came free with sachets of coffee. The third release in the Christmas trilogy, meanwhile, was 1995’s Christmas In The Aire. This featured a children’s choir, the Renaissance Ensemble Le Doo Dah, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This time it peaked at number 3 in the US charts, with advance sales of three and a half million copies. In 1999, the group released an album’s worth of interpretations of classic Disney songs.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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