Classic Christmas, Mannheim Steamroller style

Friday, December 7, 2012
Mannheim Steamroller takes the stage with all their Christmas toys. The group will perform its Christmas favorites at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Show Me Center. (Sound Trak Inc.)

Now in its 27th year, Mannheim Steamroller has garnered eight multiplatinum, four platinum and 19 gold albums. With more than 40 million albums sold, 28 million have been the group's Christmas recordings, most notably "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas."

It's those enduring Christmas tunes Mannheim Steamroller will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Show Me Center.

Though best known for its Christmas recordings, the group has its roots in the 1975 novelty song "Convoy" by country artist C.W. McCall.

"I helped create the act of C.W. McCall, whose real name is Bill Fries," said Chip Davis, composer and creator of Mannheim Steamroller in a telephone interview from Omaha, Neb. "I, along with most of the current rhythm section of Mannheim Steamroller, participated on 'Convoy.' We were also the opening act for Bill when he took the song out on the road. We'd wear our regular performance clothes while we opened and then change into country duds before we took the stage to back up Bill."

After the novelty faded, Davis, along with keyboardist Jackson Berkey, wanted to find success on their own and came up with the name Mannheim Steamroller, after an 18th-century German musical technique popularized by the Mannheim school of composition. But the only thing they found at first was frustration when they tried to get distributed what was called an "unusual" album of classical music.

"We couldn't get a major record label to distribute it, so I took the drastic step of starting our own label," Davis said. "I called it American Gramaphone. But not being able to get music out is an obstacle a lot of artists have had and will continue to have. I started up American Gramaphone while not really knowing any better, I'd say."

But the group stayed together, which Davis attributes to their tenacity. Later in 1975, Mannheim Steamroller released its first album, "Fresh Aire," followed by the release of "Fresh Aire II" in 1977, "Fresh Aire III" in 1979 and "Fresh Aire IV" in 1981, all of which have reached gold status.

In 1984, Davis decided to release a holiday album featuring modern contemporary interpretations of Christmas favorites.

"I had always had an appreciation of the music of the Renaissance, and also Christmas songs that came from that period," Davis said. "We put the two together and came up with something we felt was completely different from what was usually being heard at Christmastime."

That something was "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas," which has become the group's most popular album with sales that have earned it platinum status six times. The group's popularity grew with the album and it quickly became one of the most sought-after touring acts in the country, dazzling audiences with orchestral sounds of the holidays. The group followed up "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas" with 11 Christmas albums.

In 2008, Davis underwent surgery that prevented him from touring or performing with the group. Rather than stop the tour that was underway while he recovered, Davis created two different lineups of the band, one that toured the Midwest while another toured the East Coast. It is an arrangement that Davis has kept in place, with the Midwest lineup appearing at the Show Me Center. But Davis stressed the appearance will be pure Mannheim Steamroller.

"The Mannheim Steamroller group that will perform in Cape Girardeau is genuine through and through," he said. "The orchestra will play all of the music that people are accustomed to hearing from us. There will also be many visual images for their enjoyment. The people who pay good money for a ticket to a Mannheim Steamroller show deserve nothing less, and it will be a fantastic concert experience."

Show Me Center management touts the tour as one of the country's most popular, a big get for a smaller venue.

"This is going to be a great show," Show Me Center director Wil Gorman said. "It's one of the top 20 touring shows in the country coming to the Show Me Center, and we couldn't be happier. For people who live in the area to see Mannheim Steamroller and enjoy themselves will be a great way for them to get into the spirit of the holidays."

Tickets for Mannheim Steamroller are $39.50, $49.50 and $59.50, and are available at the Show Me Center box office, at www.showmecenter.biz and by calling 651-5000. Tickets also will be sold at the box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday for Mannheim Steamroller only.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Want to go?

* What: Mannheim Steamroller

* When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

* Where: Show Me Center

* Info: 651-5000, www.showmecenter.biz

Pertinent address: 1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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