A merry Mannheim Christmas

One of Chip Davis' biggest memories from last winter was shoveling out of massive snow drifts around his Omaha, Neb., home.

"I had to deal with a lot of snow," he said.

But snow has several upsides, one of which is that it tends to make many people think of Christmas. And for Mannheim Steamroller, which Davis created, that's a very good thing.

It's not as if the New Age act, which is primarily instrumental, is desperate for a cash boost. The recession-proof band, which crafted its classic holiday disc, "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas," 26 years ago, has sold more than 40 million copies of the disc to date.

Not bad for an act that couldn't find a label in 1974. More than 80 percent of Mannheim Steamroller's sales are Christmas discs. The latest, "Christmas 25th Anniversary Collection," has gone gold.

However, it's not all about Christmas for Mannheim Steamroller. The act enjoys some success with its "Fresh Aire" series, which combines baroque classical and light jazz. Mannheim Steamroller (the name comes from an 18th-century German musical technique) has a hard-core base of followers, which will purchase any of its albums, Davis says.

But the majority of fans are into the group's Christmas fare, which is just fine with Davis, who formed the mighty independent label American Gramophone to put out Mannheim Steamroller discs.

"I'm fine with those who come out and just know us for our Christmas music," Davis said. "We're more than that but Christmas music is very important to us."

Mannheim Steamroller, which will perform its holiday show Sunday at Century II, has built a cottage industry around the holiday season. Davis even came up with a cinnamon hot chocolate product, which is a huge seller for American Gramophone. "I think we've sold more than 60 tons of it," Davis said. "Hot chocolate goes hand in hand with Christmas."

A quarter century ago Davis was advised not to branch out into Christmas. "Don't do a Christmas album because that will signal the end of your career," Davis said he was told. "That obviously isn't true."

"I didn't listen to the naysayers," he said. "I followed my heart and it worked out."

Davis, 63, played drums in the group until three years ago. He left the band due to the latent effects of a 30-year-old car crash and the wear and tear of constant performance.

"I went through the windshield of a car a long time ago," Davis said. "I found out that that, combined with all of the playing I've done over the years, was causing excruciating pain. I had to focus on other things, and I'm fine with that."

The CEO of American Gramophone is still composing and overseeing all of his company's details.

"I have more than enough to keep me busy," Davis said. "I still go to many different cities, particularly around Christmas. I love going out there and seeing the expressions on the faces of the fans. I see how they react to the music at our shows, not to mention all the lighting and special effects. It's a great night out for a family."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle