It’s been seven years since Chip Davis quit playing drums in his lifelong creation, his record-selling engine, his ever-present ensemble — Mannheim Steamroller.
Sidelined by a neck surgery, the 67-year-old Omaha composer and bandleader has taken on a role of historian and hype man for the classical-rock-hybrid project’s four decades of accomplishments. Given its consistency and success, Mannheim’s credentials aren’t difficult to pitch. More than 40 million records sold worldwide. More than 40 albums released. Seasonal touring ensembles that hit more than 50 cities annually. A Grammy Award.
When asked if he envisions Mannheim Steamroller’s success in the New Age genre continuing beyond his life, Davis’ answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
There’s a music industry parable buried deep back in Davis’ biography that helps him explain this moment in 2015. Davis moved to Omaha in 1970 to work as a jingle writer. Before the first of his eight calling-card Fresh Aire albums came out in 1975, Davis worked with singer William Fries on the county act CW McCall. While the song “Convoy” earned them both acclaim and airplay, the character CW McCall lived and died with Fries’ voice and willingness to use it.
“[Mannheim] will be able to carry the ball past whatever I can do,” Davis says. “When it’s focused on a person … who’s highly recognizable, when that goes away, the whole thing goes away.”
In late January, we interviewed Davis at his Omaha label headquarters American Gramaphone and his Ponca Hills acreage. Listen below:
It was a day of more tours, Mannheim mementos and off-hand stories than an official interview could capture. So let Mike Machian’s photos do some of the heavy lifting. See them below, starting with Davis’ prized pet timberwolves.
Above: The small “wolf house” on Davis’ property.