The man behind Mannheim Steamroller

When the “Pandora Unforgettable Holiday Moments on Ice” show rolls into town this weekend, it’ll feature musical performance by both David Archuleta and Mannheim Steamroller. Folk who want a little taste of the event can hit Scottsdale Fashion Square on Thursday.

The Pandora store is holding a show-related event from noon to 4pm on Nov. 10. Fans are invited to come out and enter for free ticket drawings, and to meet skaters from the show between 3pm and 4pm. 

I got my own sneak peek into Saturday’s show while chatting just a few days ago with Chip Davis, founder of Mannheim Steamroller — an innovative group of musicians with fans of all ages, including both my in-laws and my 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth.

Proof that Davis has always been a snappy dresser

Davis hails from a musical family in Ohio. Both grandmothers play piano — and one was the first to teach Davis to play when he was just five years old. Both of his parents are musicians and music teachers. “I grew up thinking this is what everybody does.”

Davis recalls singing and touring as a vocal soloist when he was just 1o years old. He took up the drums at age 11 but decided when he was 12 that he’d like to be an electrical engineer. Turns out he’s “not so great at math” and projects like building Heathkit radios led to “analyzing sounds” instead of engineering prowess.

While in 9th grade, Davis was recruited to play bassoon for the school band, something he later parlayed into making reeds and starting his own reed company. He’s also been a music teacher and a jingle writer.

Chip Davis during early Mannheim Steamroller days

“Each jingle is like my child,” says Davis. There are about 2,000 of them. For many years, he recalls, he wrote something new about every other day or so. Along the way he learned to write county western, and rhythym and blues, music. “I got my chops busted,” he says, “on a regular basis.”

Davis says he used to trade his jingle-writing skills for time in the recording studio — something that led to his first album, titled “Fresh Aire.” It’d be hard to sell, RCA told him, without a band and a name. So “Mannheim Steamroller” was born.

The name references a mid-18th century orchestra in Germany that discovered they could give listeners “gooseflesh” by gradually increasing the volume of their music and creating layers with the gradual addition of new instruments. Davis says he was about 25 years old when he made “Mannheim Steamroller” his moniker.

Today Mannheim Steamroller is best known for their Christmas music, which is what they’ll be performing at Pandora Unforgettable Holiday Moments on Ice. Davis noticed early on that Christmas events “bring three generations together.” 

A couple of  years ago, Davis did new arrangements for the live “Grinchmas” holiday show at the Universal Orlando Resort. The newly-released “Christmasville” CD, which includes the song “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” is the result. 

Nowadays Davis is working with the Mayo Clinic on a music playback device to support cardiac rehabilitation patients. “Music,” he shares, “is a strong pain diversion.” His music has also been heard on the international space staton and in nuclear submarines.

Still, Davis sounds very down to earth. He brags about daughter Kelly, age 20, and son Evan, age 15 — plus the two white timberwolves, Seti and Seth, who share their expansive property.

Davis and his family use three golf carts to get around, and love spending time with family pets that include a Corgi named “Bailey” and five horses. He loves his John Deere tractor, but it’s the baby horse named “Ghost” that seems to tug most at Davis’ heart.

— Lynn

Note: Grand Canyon University is offering a 33% discount on tickets for this event through Friday at 5pm. Folks can use promotional code VETSDAY to get the discount online at, by phone at 602-639-8999, or at the GCU box office at 3300 W. Camelback Rd. in Phoenix. Watch for a taped national broadcast of the show Nov. 27 at 4pm EST on NBC.

Coming up: Prescott for families


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