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Mannheim Steamroller

The holiday season are accompanied with a lot of melodies and traditions. One tradition is Mannheim Steamroller’s “An American Christmas.”  Hosted by Mannheim’s founder Chip Davis and produced and distributed by West Star Talk show radio, “An American Christmas” was heard across 250 states in the US and received 12 hours of radio time.

Early Beginnings

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Photo courtesy of Mannheim Steamroller.com

“Mannheim Steamroller” is a named coined from an 18th-century German music technique ,Mannheimroller (popularized by the Mannheim school of composition). Chip Davis, a record producer and composer started Mannheim Steamroller as his alias.  Before their widespread popularity, Davis had also been best known together with his friend Bill Fries for working on the songs of the country music character “C.W. McCall. Davis had also produced an uncommon album of classical music performed entirely by himself and Jackson Berkey, a musical collaborator and keyboardist Jackson. The duo used electric bass which was manned by Eric Hansen and synthesizers. Under the pseudonym,Mannheim Steamroller, four albums that constituted an exploration of the four seasons (spring, fall, summer and winter) were released and all albums maintained a blend of baroque classical music, light jazz and rock and also featured Jackson’s Berkey’s virtuosic keyboard work. Fresh Aire was released in 1975 after Davis had founded his own music label, “American Gramophone” when no major music label would handle its distribution. Fresh Aire II was later released in 1977, and Fresh Aire III followed in 1979.

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Photo courtesy of Mannheim Steamroller.com

In 1984, Steamroller recorded its greatest success with the release of Davis first holiday album, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas. In 1988, Fresh Aire Christmas and 1995’s Christmas in the Aire which creatively reconstructed old carols while still dishing out new carol-like compositions followed shortly after. Steamroller had by now become one of the most requested music artists of all time and this they had achieved by adopting a radio-friendly approach in addition to features during Christmas time by Rush Limbaugh whose radio talk was gaining popularity at that time. By the end of 1997, they had released a live album of Christmas music, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Live.   2001 saw the release of their fourth all-new Christmas album, Christmas Extraordinaire. Christmas Celebration, a compilation of favorite tracks from the previous studio albums (with one  new song), was released in 2004. A studio album Christmas Song was released in late 2007 and features guest vocals by Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John although, co-founder Jackson Berkey was absent from the lineup. 2008 saw the release of the CD Christmasville. A 25th anniversary Christmas box set containing previously released material was released shortly after. In 2011, they released Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony with members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Photo courtesy of Mannheim Steamroller.com

In the 1990s, Davis employed the use of mainstream music which relied more on synthesized instruments and less humor. This made his style of music more Jazz-like as this had gained wide acceptance in the 1990s.  A full-length motion picture which was more theatrical than cinema-like based on their Christmas album did not work out and hence a collaboration with Olivia-Newton John for another Christmas album titled “the Christmas Angel: A Family Story” was next released.  Mannheim Steamroller also released “Halloween” in 2003.  Mannheim Steamroller also released an album of Disney music (1999’s “Mannheim Steamroller Meets the Mouse”), one celebrating his American heritage, “American Spirit” and an album “Yellowstone.”

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Photo courtesy of Mannheim Steamroller.com

In 2008, Davis opted to hire additional musicians to temporarily replace him as he had undergone surgery which subsequently prevented him from touring or performing. He also decided to create two different lineups of the band, nicknamed the “red” and “green” touring companies. The group has also appeared in the 2011 and 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, playing their version of “Deck the Halls.”