Mannheim Streamroller is, perhaps more than any other pop sensation, the brainchild of one man. The whole concept started back in 1974 when Chip Davis — who was also busy at that time penning songs for novelty country act C.W. McCall — decided to create an outlet to showcase his interest in combining modern and classical music making techniques. It went OK.
But then came 1984 and the release of “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.”
“I had people going, ‘You only do a Christmas album if you’ve run out of ideas or if you’ve got a three-record deal and you’ve got one record to do left and you don’t want to be on that label so you just do a Christmas album,’ ” Davis said in a phone interview. “Well, that’s not why I did it. I did it because of my interest in the origin of Christmas music.”
The sound was a revolutionary take on classic Christmas fare, and the result was gigantic. Now, despite 22 albums of non-holiday themed work, there are many people who don’t know Mannheim Steamroller for anything BUT Christmas albums. And, as Davis is quick to point out, the Christmas album is no longer looked at as a throwaway album.
“Everybody takes a shot at it now,” he said. “I think about the third year after my first one sold so many copies — it ended up selling 9 million copies, I think — suddenly everybody was making a Christmas album.”
While Davis still clearly views Mannheim Steamroller as a well-rounded musical endeavor, he doesn’t begrudge the overwhelming popularity of one aspect of the project’s sound. In fact, he relishes the idea of his music bringing together families and being treasured year after year.
“I’m a family guy,” he said. “I’ve got three kids, and I’m way into tradition. So when I go out to look into the audience, you see three generations, quite often, sitting together: grandma and grandpa, mom and dad and the kids. Probably 20 years ago or whenever, mom and dad were the kids, and grandma and grandpa were the mom and dad. So, it’s gone to three generations, and I think that’s kept the tradition alive for people at Christmastime. I think it has a lot to do with the longevity.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the project’s first release, “Fresh Aire,” as well as the 30th anniversary of “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.” To mark the occasion, Davis has released “30/40,” an album that combines some of Davis’ favorite tracks from each release.
“They coincided this year, so we thought, “Wait, this is a cool event to release this,’ ” he said.
The 67-year-old Davis has no plans to slow down anytime soon, and Mannheim Steamroller continues to tour. His two oldest children are involved in the family business, and his youngest daughter is featured on “30/40,” singing on the newly-recorded “Greensleeves.” Mannheim Steamroller is a family affair from top to bottom, and Davis wouldn’t have it any other way. Because if there is anything Davis has meant for Mannheim Steamroller to do, it is to make memories and carry on traditions.
Whether it is through the “Fresh Aire” series or any of the project’s ambient albums, Davis is happy to have built a lasting legacy. But it is the Christmas music that has had the biggest impact, and Davis is humbled by it.
“I feel like I’m part of the American family at Christmastime. It’s a big honor to be able to be in people’s Christmas celebrations and have my musical played in the background,” he said.
Mannheim Steamroller plays the Civic Center on Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 20.