No Christmas is complete in my home without the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller flowing out of my stereo speakers. I was introduced to this group by my mother back in the 80’s. If I’m not mistaken, she first heard them on a late-night radio talk show. Mom was always listening to the radio late at night due to her chronic insomnia. After hearing Mannheim Steamroller, she gave me the money to go buy the album. And what a surprise it was to me!
Mannheim Steamroller was founded by Chip Davis, a record producer and composer. He began learning to play the piano at age 4, composing his first piece of music at the age of 6. After high school, he attended the University of Michigan music school where he specialized on the bassoon and percussion. After graduation, he toured with the Norman Luboff Choir, a leading choral group of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Afterwards, he took a job in Omaha, Nebraska, at an advertising agency writing jingles. One of their clients was a local bakery featuring the fictional trucker C. W. McCall. He co-wrote the ads with advertising writer William Fries, who then became the voice of C. W. McCall. Davis and McCall released five albums of non-advertising songs between 1974 and 1979 with Davis being named Country Music Writer of the Year in 1976. McCall became best known for the 1976 #1 hit song Convoy, a song which was largely responsible for starting a nationwide CB radio fad. I certainly remember that craze. Most of my buddies ran out to buy CBs and learned all the associated lingo such as “What’s your 20” (your location) or “10-4, good buddy” (OK, I copy, friend). As for me, though, my main concern during that era was having an 8 track tape player in my Plymouth Roadrunner, so I never had a CB, though I did use the CB term “hammer down” (move faster) when talking about driving my hot rod.
The Fresh Aire series was Mannheim Steamroller’s entry into the music world. The group’s moniker comes from the German musical technique Mannheim roller, or Mannheimer Walze. Five albums were released from 1975 to 1983 featuring a blend of classical and new age music along with elements of progressive rock. It was 1984 when the group began modern recordings of Christmas music. And it was that very first album that me and my mom fell in love with, simply known as Christmas or Christmas 1984. The album included many traditional carols, including Deck the Halls, We Three Kings, Good King Wenceslas and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.