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Mannheim Steamroller

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Mannheim Steamroller
OriginOmaha, Nebraska
GenresNeoclassical new-age music, holiday, progressive rock
Years active1974–present
LabelsAmerican Gramaphone
  • Chip Davis
  • Roxanne Layton
  • Becky Kia-Mills
  • Mark Angor
  • Tom Sharpe
  • Brian Czach
  • Paul Mutzabaugh
  • Ed Berry
  • Anna Lackkaff
  • David Plank
  • Chris Forte
  • Tom Vitacco
  • Reed Flygt
  • (Many Others)[a][1][2]
Past members
  • Jackson Berkey
  • Bobby Jenkins
  • Almeda Berkey
  • Eric Hansen
  • Carol Scott
  • Milt Bailey
  • David Kappy
  • Steve Shipps
  • Ron Cooley
  • Arnie Roth
  • Chuck Penington
  • Jonathan Swoboda
  • Joey Gulizia
  • Jeff Yang
  • Bobby Kunkle
  • Johnny Adams

Mannheim Steamroller is an American neoclassical new-age music ensemble founded and directed by percussionist/composer Chip Davis in 1974. The group is known primarily for its Fresh Aire series of albums, which blend classical music with elements of new age and rock, and for its modern recordings of Christmas music. The group has sold 28 million albums in the U.S. alone.[3][4]



Mannheim Steamroller began as an alias for record producer and composer Chip Davis. The name "Mannheim Steamroller" comes from an 18th-century German musical technique, Mannheim roller (German: Mannheimer Walze), a crescendo passage having a rising melodic line over an ostinato bass line, popularized by the Mannheim school of composition.[5]

Before the fame of Steamroller, Davis had been best known for collaborating with his friend Bill Fries on the songs of the country music character "C. W. McCall", of "Convoy" fame. The song was based on the character created by Fries and music composed by Davis for a series of Clio winning ads for Metz Baking Company for their Old Home Bread product.[6] Davis was named 1976's Country Music Writer of the Year, a genre he is not fond of.[7]

Even before the height of McCall's popularity, Davis produced an unusual album of classical music performed entirely by Davis and musical collaborator and keyboardist Jackson Berkey, using electric bass (played by Eric Hansen) and synthesizers.

Fresh Aire and American Gramaphone[edit]

Since no major label would handle the distribution of Fresh Aire, Davis founded his own music label, American Gramaphone[8] (a play on the German classical record label Deutsche Grammophon), to release the album, which was published in 1975 under the pseudonym Mannheim Steamroller. Fresh Aire II was subsequently released in 1977, and Fresh Aire III was released in 1979. The first four Fresh Aire albums constituted an exploration of the four seasons, with Fresh Aire being spring, Fresh Aire II being fall, Fresh Aire III being summer, and Fresh Aire IV being winter. All four of these albums maintained the blend of baroque classical music, light jazz, and rock and featured Jackson Berkey's virtuosic keyboard work. Davis and Berkey used whatever instrument seemed appropriate to the piece, using a toy piano on one piece and a full pipe organ on another, with copious interleaving of piano and harpsichord. In 1981 Davis released Fresh Aire Interludes, an album that compiled Berkey's ten piano interludes from the first four Fresh Aire albums.

Davis then moved into exploring some other themes, with Fresh Aire V subtitled "To the Moon", Fresh Aire VI exploring Greek mythology, Fresh Aire 7 based on the number 7, and Fresh Aire 8 based on the theme of infinity. A live tour of the early albums featured a prominent light show and multimedia components, along with spoken poetry by Almeda Berkey. While the music was slightly different from the album versions, it was played in lockstep at each show, as it had to coordinate the live musicians with recorded tracks of strings and other orchestral parts.

In 1986, Mannheim Steamroller released music composed for a PBS special called Saving the Wildlife, which featured one track from Fresh Aire VI and twelve new tracks.[9][10] In 1987, Davis collaborated with guitarist/composer Mason Williams for the album Classical Gas. The music was composed entirely by Williams but produced and arranged by Davis. The album opens with a remake of Williams' 1968 instrumental "Classical Gas", which used the original arrangement.

Christmas music success[edit]

Steamroller found its greatest fame beginning in 1984 when Davis released his first holiday album, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, featuring modern contemporary interpretations of Yuletide favorites. This was followed by A Fresh Aire Christmas in 1988.

Steamroller's Christmas music caught the ear of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh when it was used as bumper music for football games toward the end of the NFL season around the holidays.[11] In turn, he began using it as bumper music on his radio show during the holiday season.[12] As a result, Manheim Steamroller found a whole new audience among conservatives, and became one of the most requested Christmas music artists of all time.[13]

Steamroller released Christmas in the Aire in 1995. Like its two predecessors, it showcased creative approaches to old carols, as well as some new carol-like compositions. At the end of 1997, they released a live album of Christmas music, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Live. Their fourth all-new Christmas album, Christmas Extraordinaire, was released in 2001. While Steamroller's third and fourth Christmas releases sold well, they fell short of the sales of Christmas and A Fresh Aire Christmas. Christmas Celebration, a compilation of favorite tracks from the previous studio albums (with one new song), was released in 2004.

The studio album Christmas Song was released in late 2007 and features guest vocals by Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John (on a remake of "Christmas Lullaby" from their third Christmas album). Steamroller co-founder Jackson Berkey is absent from the lineup. The CD Christmasville was released in 2008. Their next release was a 25th anniversary Christmas box set consisting of previously released material, and in 2011 they released Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony with members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.[14]

Manheim Steamroller's top nine best selling albums are all Christmas albums.[15]

Other work[edit]

Musically, as the 1990s progressed, Davis moved into the mainstream of "progressive rock" music with a heavier reliance on synthesized instruments and less humor. Titles like "Small Wooden Bach'ses" from Fresh Aire III were not seen, nor mechanisms like the creative use of a cricket on the same album or the Gregorian chant on Fresh Aire II. Davis's music became closer to the "light jazz" style that gained prominence in the 1990s, especially with the Day Parts albums.[citation needed]

Steamroller developed a full-length theatrical motion picture based on their Christmas albums, but the plans for production fell through. Instead, the following year, they collaborated with Olivia Newton-John for yet another Christmas album called The Christmas Angel: A Family Story, a mostly spoken-word recording scored with previously released material. The story was then turned into a figure skating production titled The Christmas Angel: A Story on Ice, starring Dorothy Hamill as the mother, Daniel Cloonan as the son, Elvis Stojko as the Gargon, and Tonia Kwiatkowski in the title role of the Angel. In 2003 they released a CD titled Halloween.

In addition to their Fresh Aire and Christmas collections, Steamroller has released: an album of Disney music (1999's Mannheim Steamroller Meets the Mouse); an album celebrating American heritage, (2003's American Spirit, which reunited Davis with C.W. McCall and featured a remake of "Convoy"); and an album Yellowstone: The Music of Nature, for the PBS special of the same name, mixing prior Davis compositions and a series of classical pieces by Ottorino Respighi and others.[16]

During some holiday seasons, fans can listen to Chip narrate two special programs, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and “An American Christmas” on the WestStar Radio Network. “12 Days” airs in the days leading up to Christmas and, on some stations, Christmas Eve. “An American Christmas” airs on Christmas Eve on most stations.

Each segment of the programs is a mix of heartwarming Christmas stories accompanied by holiday music including Mannheim Steamroller’s signature Christmas sounds. You’ll learn the origin of our many Christmas traditions and other holiday stories.

The programs air coast to coast on WestStar affiliated radio stations as shown on the attached grid. Note that some times may change due to revised radio scheduling. So join Chip as he brings holiday cheer to the radio![17]

In 2008, Davis underwent surgery, which prevented him from touring or performing with the band. Rather than ultimately force the tour to stop while he recovered, Davis opted to hire additional musicians to replace him. He also decided to create two different lineups of the band, nicknamed the "red" and "green" touring companies which allows the band to reach more cities on their annual Christmas tour. [18]

The group appeared in the 2011 and 2013 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, playing their version of "Deck the Halls."

A new album composed and performed in the design of the Fresh Aire series, Exotic Spaces, was set for release in March 2018.[19] The album features songs that were inspired by famous – and exotic – sites, such as Egypt's pyramids and the Taj Mahal.[19] Instrumentation comes from exotic and ethnic instruments mixed with the drums, harpsichord, and synthesizers. The album was officially released in September 2019, prior to the 2019 Christmas tour.


Fresh Aire series albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Billboard 200 Albums
1975 Fresh Aire Gold
1977 Fresh Aire II Gold
1979 Fresh Aire III Gold
1981 Fresh Aire IV Gold
1981 Fresh Aire Interludes (compilation) ----
1983 Fresh Aire V 25 (1994) Gold
1986 Fresh Aire VI 155 Gold
1990 Fresh Aire 7 2 77 Gold
1993 Seasons: A Fresh Aire Collection (box set compilation of the first four Fresh Aire albums) ----
1993 Fresh Aire Music Motivator (compilation) ----
2000 Fresh Aire 8 2 ----
2007 The Fresh Aire Music of Mannheim Steamroller (compilation) ----

Christmas albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Holiday Albums2 Billboard 200 Albums
1984 Christmas 8 2 50 6× Platinum
1988 A Fresh Aire Christmas 4 1 36 6× Platinum
1995 Christmas in the Aire 1 1 3 4× Platinum
1997 Christmas Live 1 1 24 Platinum
1997 My Little Christmas Tree & Other Christmas Bedtime Stories (book included music CD) ----
1998 The Christmas Angel: A Family Story 1 2 25 Platinum
2001 Christmas Extraordinaire 1 1 5 3× Platinum
2001 Christmas Collection (box set compilation) ----
2004 Christmas Celebration (compilation) 1 1 19 Platinum
2006 Winter Wonderland (compilation) ----
2007 Christmas Song 1 2 5 Platinum
2007 Trimming the Tree (compilation) ----
2007 Morning Frost (compilation) ----
2007 Mannheim Steamroller the Making of Christmas Song By Chip Davis ----
2008 Sweet Memories (compilation) ----
2008 A Candle Light Christmas (compilation) 1 8 68 ----
2008 Christmasville 2 8 48 ----
2009 Christmas: 25th Anniversary Collection (compilation) 1 6 29 Gold
2010 Heading Home (compilation) ----
2011 Christmas Symphony 1 2 19 ----
2011 Hometown (compilation) ----
2011 Mannheim Ultimate Christmas Collection (box set compilation) ----
2012 Tis the Season (compilation) ----
2013 Christmas Symphony II (release and a special extended version) 2 26 ----
2014 30/40 ----
2015 LIVE (release and a special extended version) 85 ----
2019 Christmas 35th Anniversary

Chip Davis – Christmas albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Holiday Albums2 Billboard 200 Albums
1996 Chip Davis' Holiday Musik ----
1997 Chip Davis' Holiday Musik II ----
1998 Chip Davis Presents: Renaissance Holiday ----

Halloween albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Billboard 200 Albums
2003 Halloween 1 53 ----
2004 Halloween: Monster Mix ----
2006 Halloween 2 Creatures Collection ----
2006 Halloween: Sweet Tooth (compilation) ----

Ambience series albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Billboard 200 Albums
2000 Ambience: Bird Song ----
2001 Ambience: Summer Song ----
2003 Ambience: Autumn Song ----
Mentioned in the existing CD liner notes are Ambience Ocean Song, Ambience Night Song and Ambience Desert Song; this series was apparently abandoned before their release.

Chip Davis – Day Parts series and solo albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Billboard 200 Albums
1991 Day Parts: Sunday Morning Coffee ----
1992 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Dinner ----
1992 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Party Music That Cooks ----
1992 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Romance ----
1993 Impressions ----
1994 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Sunday Morning Coffee II ----
1995 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Party Music That Cooks 2 ----
1998 Chip Davis' Day Parts: Romance II ----

Other albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions RIAA certification
New Age Albums1 Billboard 200 Albums
1980 American Gramaphone Sampler (compilation) ----
1984 American Gramaphone Sampler III (compilation) ----
1986 Saving the Wildlife (1986 television documentary soundtrack) ----
1987 Classical Gas Gold
1989 Yellowstone: The Music of Nature 2 167 Gold
1987 American Gramaphone Sampler (compilation) ----
1990 American Gramaphone Sampler 2 (compilation) ----
1994 To Russia with Love 9 ----
1996 Huskers Musik [20] ----
1997 A Mannheim Massage (compilation) ----
1998 In the Deed the Glory ----
1999 Mannheim Steamroller Meets the Mouse 1 89 ----
1999 25 Year Celebration of Mannheim Steamroller (compilation) ----
2000 Exclusive Collection (compilation) ----
2003 Romantic Melodies 1 41 ----
2003 American Spirit ----
2005 Romantic Themes ----
2007 The Music of the Spheres ----
2010 True Wilderness ----
2012 Safari (re-release of Saving the Wildlife) ----
2013 Snapshot: Mannheim Steamroller (compilation) ----
2013 The Music of the Spheres (re-release, added five tracks, removed one) ----
2015 Live (live performance compilation) 85 ----
2019 Exotic Spaces (featuring 12 new tracks) ----

1 Billboard's Top New Age Albums chart became the New Age Albums chart in June 2009. 2 Billboard's Top Holiday Albums chart became the Holiday Albums chart in June 2009.

  1. ^ Mannheim Steamroller also enlists a rolling roster of touring musicians who change every year. The musicians listed above are recording artists of Mannheim Steamroller who are also touring with the ensemble.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "AllMusic Guide - Mannheim Steamroller Live (2015)". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  2. ^ American Gramaphone. "2022-2023 Mannheim Steamroller Touring Company". Mannheim Steamroller Facebook Page. Facebook. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  3. ^ "Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – August 13, 2014". RIAA. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
  4. ^ "[Chip Davis] is one of the most successful recording artists in the history of American music. Mannheim Steamroller has sold more than 27 million albums, more than Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M. or Eminem, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Davis has racked up these astonishing sales figures operating out of his home base in Omaha, Neb., releasing all his records on his own label, American Gramaphone." Jody Rosen (Dec. 18, 2005) "Lutes + Synthesizers +Rock Beats = America's Most Popular Christmas Music?". The New York Times, accessed 2020-08-02
  5. ^ Chandler, Thom (December 24, 2018). "5 Things You Didn't Know About Manheim Steamroller". Sun Publishing LLC.
  6. ^ "Old Home Bread – Bozell". bozell.com. Retrieved 2022-04-03.
  7. ^ Contemporary musicians : profiles of the people in music. Michael L. LaBlanc, Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research. 1989. ISBN 0-8103-2211-0. OCLC 20156945.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ Mount, Ian (Dec 2004). "How I Did It: Chip Davis". Inc. 26 (13): 100.
  9. ^ Flippo, Chet (25 November 1995). "Xmas Set Steamrolls Chart For American Gramaphone" (PDF). Billboard. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Pledges Down in PBS Drive". The New York Times. 29 March 1986. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  11. ^ Limbaugh, Rush (December 13, 2018). "My First Memory of Mannheim Steamroller". The Rush Limbaugh Show.
  12. ^ Batura, Paul (December 20, 2023). "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music makes me miss Rush Limbaugh". Fox News.
  13. ^ "Rediscovering the Magic: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Music, Rush Limbaugh, and the Timeless Joy of Holiday Traditions". US Newsper. December 21, 2023.
  14. ^ "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony". AllMusic. Netaktion LLC.
  15. ^ "Mannheim Steamroller Albums ranked by sales". Best Selling Albums.org.
  16. ^ https://store.mannheimsteamroller.com/products/yellowstone-the-music-of-nature
  17. ^ https://www.mannheimsteamroller.com/mannheim-steamroller-christmas-in-america-2/
  18. ^ 2008 Tour, Mannheim Steamroller, Archived December 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ a b "Mannheim Steamroller adding fresh take to holiday concerts". The Spokesman-Review. 2017-11-17.
  20. ^ AEC One Stop Group, Inc. "Discography — Manheim Steamroller". billboard.com. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved 24 November 2007. [dead link]

External links[edit]