The Christmas Music of Mannheim Steamroller by Chip Davis
© The Flash List | December 27, 2010
Many people have their certain holiday traditions - hot wassail, exchanging gifts, The Nutcracker …
For us this year, it was deep fried Oreos and Mannheim Steamroller (not at the same time, of course, although that really would’ve been sweet!) The immensely popular contemporary/jazz/rock group Mannheim Steamroller, which fuses popular modern music with classical techniques and showcases contemporary, electronic versions of familiar tunes, was founded in 1974 by Louis "Chip" Davis.
Davis had been working in Omaha, Nebraska as a jingle writer for the Bozell & Jacobs advertising agency where he and the firm’s art director Bill Fries had written a series of television commercials for Old Home Bread featuring fictional truck driver C.W. McCall (played by Dallas actor Jim Finlayson) and Mavis, the waitress at the "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep on a-Truckin' Café" (played by Dallas actress Jean McBride Capps. The ad campaign became so popular that Nashville came a-calling, a record deal was signed, and albums were produced including the 1975 smash hit "Convoy" which peaked at #1 on both pop and country radio stations. (Oh, how many times have we sung that song? Yes, we still have it on vinyl 45 here at The Flash List.) The song catapulted the 70’s CB radio craze into extreme popularity, and was soon parlayed into a Hollywood movie starring Kris Kristofferson.
With his banked money from the film and record sales, Davis decided to chase his real passion which he calls "18th-century rock and roll" starting his own record label, American Gramaphone, after experiencing widespread rejection from major record industry labels. Chip Davis now has four multiplatinum, eight platinum, and 19 gold records under his belt with Mannheim Steamroller (a name which refers to lush crescendos) having sold more than 30 million Christmas records alone, more than any other artist in history, including Elvis Presley.
Manheim Steamroller’s 25th annual tour, which launched in November with two different touring companies trekking across separate coasts, opened here on Sunday night featuring ethereal displays of colored light dancing across the Meyerson auditorium and a collection of video clips projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage. Band members looked especially dashing at one point as they were sprinkled with sparkling bits of purple, green, and yellow lights giving them the effect of Transformer disco balls.
Conductor Chuck Penington casually grinned at the audience while rocking out to "Hallelujah" from his double keyboard, and violin soloist Jeff Yang performed an upbeat, fast tempo "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen"; a unique version of "Winter Wonderland"; and a soft, unhurried, very touching "Silent Night".
A handful of musicians from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra accompanied the band which also included Mannheim Steamroller’s bassist and dulcimer player Glen Smith, Joey Gulizia on percussion and electronic woodwinds, and drummer Tom Sharpe who also played the recorder. We enjoyed Tom’s musical skill and display of showmanship as his Tommy Lee / Lars Ulrich rock star style included dramatic hand gestures, drumstick twirling, and suspenseful dramatic pauses during his "Little Drummer Boy" solos.
See the Show
To stretch out your holiday season just a little longer, and to hear songs like "Above the Northern Lights" (which included vocals and is certainly the kind of music you’d expect to hear if you were floating through the sky) as well as strong, recognizable tunes like "Joy to the World", you can catch Mannheim Steamroller again tonight at the Meyerson. You should know though that when the ‘show’ is over, it is definitely not completely over by any means - be sure to stick around for an impressive (and lengthy) encore. The show runs two hours including intermission.
If you can’t make the Meyerson tonight, head up to Wichita Falls on Tuesday for the absolute last stop on this 2010 tour. Maybe you could grab some friends and take a "Convooooyyy" …