Music News & Reviews

Mannheim Steamroller celebrates 30 years of Christmas music

Mannheim Steamroller released its first Christmas album 30 years ago.
Mannheim Steamroller released its first Christmas album 30 years ago. Courtesy photo

“Mannheim Steamroller 30/40,” the latest album from Chip Davis’ long-running project, tells only part of the story. Mannheim Steamroller formed 40 years ago and released its initial Christmas album three decades ago, hence the title.

However, there’s more to those numbers. Davis was laughed at 30 years ago when he announced that his group of relative unknowns would release a Christmas album.

“I was told that ‘you just don’t do that. Only artists who run out of ideas make Christmas albums,’” Davis recalled. “When someone says that it will never work, I take it as a personal challenge.”

Davis proved the doubters wrong. The veteran instrumental New Age act has sold 40 million albums over a 30-year span. Mannheim Steamroller also records albums for its Fresh Aire series, a combination of lush classical and light jazz. But 80 percent of albums sold are the Christmas albums.

“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.”

Davis, 67, played drums in the group until seven years ago when he stepped back because of latent effects of a 30-year-old car crash and the rigors of constant performance.

“That’s the way it goes,” Davis said. “Over the years, I had overwhelming pain because of the lasting effects and finally underwent surgery, replacing all the cervical discs in my neck. I’m pain-free now, but I have limited feeling in my right arm and very little mobility. That’s why I don’t perform now. We all have to move on to other things at some point. Mannheim Steamroller lives on without me as a performer, but I’m still around.”

Davis is more than happy to work on other aspects of Mannheim Steamroller, which will perform Sunday in Century II Concert Hall.

“So now I can instead focus on recording and producing the tours,” Davis said. “In addition to our two touring companies that go out for Christmas, we have another company that headlines Universal Orlando’s holiday celebration throughout the month of December. And we often have yet another ensemble for performances on national television shows, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and other activities.”

The other endeavors have nothing to do with music, but they fall under Davis’ umbrella.

“We have a whole line of Mannheim Steamroller products, including food items, apparel, a bath and body line, gift products and more,” Davis said. “They’re all items that complement the musical experience. Our most popular food product is Cinnamon Hot Chocolate. We sell tons of it during the holidays.”

The cottage industry that is Mannheim Steamroller has given the Ohio native the opportunity to live anywhere in the world. However, Davis has decided to reside in Omaha, where Mannheim Steamroller started.

“I grew up in a small farm town in Ohio,” Davis explained. “That community atmosphere and values helped shape who I am today. I now live on a 150-acre farm that covers all kinds of natural terrains and surroundings. So I guess the farm boy is still in me.”

If you go

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $59.40 and $71.50, or 316-303-8100