‘Convoy’ Helps Start Mannheim Steamroller Phenomenon
The six degrees of separation theory gets a little closer when Chip Davis starts talking about the novelty song 'Convoy' and the phenomenon of Mannheim Steamroller. You see, Davis is the man behind both of these very popular musical happenings.
Back in 1975, Davis co-wrote and co-produced the C.W. McCall hit 'Convoy,' which also became a huge hit movie starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw and Ernest Borgnine. The Sam Peckinpah-directed film about a mile-long convoy supporting a trucker's vendetta against a not-so-kind sheriff is history, but Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas CD series is now celebrating its 25th anniversary! Steamroller, however, was created in 1975, the same year of 'Convoy,' releasing a series of 'Fresh Aire' compilations.
Davis and Bill Fries, aka C.W. McCall, who were then advertising jingle writers in Omaha, Neb., capitalized on the CB craze of the 1970s to write a series of fictional radio ads featuring truck driver C.W. McCall. After 'Convoy,' Davis produced several other hits on C.W., including 'Wolf Creek Pass' and 'Roses for Mama.' His initial success in country music allowed the entrepreneur to pursue another dream, that of the Mannheim Steamroller concept. Mannheim Steamroller was an alias for the producer and composer, who pulled a slight of hand by taking the 18th-century German musical technique, Mannheim rocket or roller, an ascending arpeggio popularized by the Mannheim school of composition, and turning it into the name that has become closely associated with Christmas music today.
Interestingly enough, the debut Christmas album did not meet with great respect from established record labels at the time, which did not deter Davis. He simply released 'Mannheim Steamroller Christmas' on his already established indie label, American Gramaphone Records. It sold five million copies. Now, 27 million Christmas albums later, Davis' foresight as to what the listener might want to hear when it came to holiday sounds has proven prophetic time and time again. It has propelled Mannheim Steamroller into one of the 50 biggest selling musical acts ever.
"I remember when I created 'Mannheim Steamroller Christmas'," Davis says. "I took it around to all the major buyers and distributors and the first thing out of their mouths was: 'This is a Christmas record; that'll never work.' And everyone else in the industry told me a Christmas album would signal the end of my career."
Not only did it work, the popularity of the music resulted in an annual Christmas tour. Davis is celebrating the 25th anniversary with the release of a retrospective two-CD set 'Mannheim Steamroller Christmas - 25th Christmas Collection.'
"At Christmas time, it's comforting to listen to something from your childhood and for the past 25 years, people have grown up listening to our music," says Davis. "Plus Christmas time is family time and our music and concerts are family friendly -- we often have three generations attending one of our shows."
Mannheim Steamroller and American Gramaphone have created a small empire for Davis, which includes eight CDs in the 'Fresh Aire' series, 18 Christmas albums and four Halloween albums. He has also helped develop the Mannheim Steamroller "lifestyle," which includes five children's books and an entire line of food, bath and apparel products under the Mannheim name. The top selling non-music product? Cinnamon Hot Chocolate. Most recently, Davis created a cutting-edge music therapy technology. Ambient Therapy combines nature sounds with music and is being used by Mayo Clinic, Wake Forest, Walter Reed and other major facilities. NASA is looking at the use of the system for long-term space travel.
Davis says these accomplishments all go back to his music base. "I like the business aspects, but the 25th Anniversary of Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas music reminds me that being a creative artist is what I'm all about."
Or maybe they go back to these simple lyrics from the song that got it all started -- "come on and join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna get in our way, we gonna roll this truckin' convoy, 'cross the U.S.A."