The driving force behind Mannheim Steamroller, Chip Davis was among the pioneers of neo-classical electronic music, and with his own independent label, American Gramaphone, helped give rise to the new age phenomenon. Born Louis Davis, Jr. in Sylvania, OH, Davis grew up in a musical family -- his father was a high-school music teacher and his mother was a trombonist with Phil Spitalny's All Girl Orchestra. Davis' grandmother was his first music teacher, giving the child his initial piano lessons at the age of four; two years later, he composed his first piece, a four-part chorale written in honor of his dog. He later joined a boys' choir as well, and while attending the University of Michigan played bassoon in the school's concert band. After graduating in 1969, Davis was tapped to tour with the Norman Luboff Choir. After five years with the group, performing everything from pop to classical, he returned to Sylvania to teach music at the local junior high school, often adapting classical standards to contemporary harmonies and rhythms for student consumption.
Davis later left teaching, arranging and conducting an Omaha, NE, production of Hair before accepting a job writing advertising jingles. With co-worker Bill Fries, he created the enormously popular C.W. McCall character, later the figure behind the chart-topping hit "Convoy"; as the McCall craze went into high gear, however, Davis returned to the classical adaptations he'd first composed while a teacher, and soon entered the studio to begin recording what he dubbed "18th century classical rock" -- classical music performed on electric bass and synthesizers. He titled the resulting album Fresh Aire, and when no label would touch it, he founded his own company, American Gramaphone, in 1974, creating a fictitious band named Mannheim Steamroller to better promote the project. Davis initially marketed Fresh Aire to stereo showrooms, where his state-of-the-art sound proved ideal for demonstrating home stereo equipment; the LP became a smash hit among audiophiles, and a series of popular Fresh Aire sequels followed in the years to come.
In 1984, Davis issued Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, which shocked onlookers by selling over five million copies on the strength of a Top 40 adult contemporary rendition of "Deck the Halls." It was followed four years later by A Fresh Aire Christmas, another unqualified hit. The environment informed 1986's Saving the Wildlife, the soundtrack to a PBS special, and was followed three years later by Yellowstone: The Music of Nature, which raised over half a million dollars for the National Parks Service. In the early '90s, Davis -- recording under his own name for the first time -- mounted a new series of recordings known collectively as Day Parts, a series of mood pieces designed as accompaniment for everyday activities. Impressions, arguably Davis' most reflective and personal work to date, appeared in 1993; the next year he was commissioned to compose material for the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, resulting in the LP To Russia with Love. A third Mannheim Steamroller holiday recording, Christmas in the Aire, followed in 1995. ~ Jason Ankeny