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Chip Davis: 'Tis the Season for Mannheim Steamroller

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Having produced the best-selling Christmas music ever (about 25 million Christmas CDs to date), Chip Davis’ love of the holiday comes across in his music and his life.

Chip grew up in a musical family, learned piano from his grandmother, and studied music in college. His father was a high school music teacher and their church choir director. Chip loved classical music. He once told his father that he would love to hear a particular classical piece on the rare instrument it was written for, which was the harpsichord. His father combed the library until he found the plans to make one and gave it to Chip the following year.

“He built it for me in his shop,” Chip says. “And it still stands at my home as an expression of my father’s love for me – and the greatest gift I ever received.”

Chip loves to give wonderful gifts to his own children. In his new book, Chip reflects on five simple joys of the Christmas season: family, friendship, giving, music and the real meaning of the holiday, which is the Father’s gift to the world – Jesus (Luke 2:1-20).

Chip counts true friendship as a great gift, and says working with the people of Mannheim Steamroller and American Gramaphone is one of his joys. They’ve been together for decades and are more than business partners, but true friends.

Mannheim Steamroller

A classical musician, after college and a brief teaching stint himself, Chip moved to Omaha, NE to work for an advertising agency writing jingles. He teamed up with another ad executive, Bill Fries, and dreamed up a fictional truck driver named C.W. McCall to feature in commercials for The Old Home Bread company.

The radio commercials were so popular that listeners started calling in for them, which led to a Nashville recording deal producing songs under that name. The song “Convoy” popularized the CB radio craze of 1975.

Within two months, 10 million record buyers were singing it. Two years later, Kris Kristofferson starred in the hit movie of the same name. With money from these successes, Chip left the agency and recorded “Fresh Aire,” which he called “18th Century Rock.”

Though working alone, he released the album under the name “Mannheim Steamroller,” which is an actual musical term from 1749. It means a “textural crescendo,” where you add more texture, one on top of the other as a musical piece develops which gradually makes it louder and more interesting.

It came from a German composer who was a contemporary of Mozart, who lived in Mannheim, Germany. Curiously, the established music industry didn’t get the concept, so Chip started his own record label named American Gramaphone.

Though not able to break into traditional music stores, Mannheim Steamroller entered through the side door – becoming the recording artist of choice for high-end, hi-fi dealers. Customers liked the new sounds they were hearing, and Mannheim Steamroller's songs topped the best-selling independent releases in the US and Europe.

It was in 1984 that Chip decided to create a Christmas album and totally changed everything. During that time, Christmas music wasn’t that popular and typically did not sell well. These albums were usually done by artists who were on their way out professionally. Chip came at it differently, with a modernized, electronic version of “Deck the Halls” which sold five million copies.

Chip assembled a bunch his classically trained (but rock loving) musician friends, and went on the road. Radio picked up on this new sound, with a huge boost coming when Rush Limbaugh and others started playing them on his show about 12 years ago.

Since the groundbreaking success of “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” the band has released five more Christmas CD's which have sold 25 million copies, including the new one, “Christmas Song.” This is also his most personal Christmas CD to date. Chip has written songs on it for each of his children and one for his wife.