In November 2015, Debbie and I had the privilege of visiting Pearl Harbor. It was a cloudy day with intermittent sprinkles. The exhibit docents took great pains to remind each tour group that they were visiting a gravesite, and to comport ourselves with that in mind. Our group didn’t seem to require the caution, as we milled quietly about on the U.S.S. Arizona memorial after the journey across the harbor.
The experience was every bit as emotional as you would imagine, as we all thought of the young men whose names were inscribed on the memorial wall, many of them just teenagers.
What affected me most was a video of divers taking a waterproof urn containing the ashes of a recently deceased Arizona veteran into the wreck. I thought of how these men made it through the war, went home, married, raised families and had careers, but that Sunday morning in 1941 remained such a part of them, that when the end of their lives came, the thing they wanted most of all was to be return to their friends who never had that privilege.
I will always spend a few minutes on December 7 to contemplate and honor their sacrifice.
The Mannheim Steamroller is bringing its Christmas show to Cedar Rapids again this year. And it’s special, because 2021 is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of “Christmas,” their first holiday album, a collection that completely changed how people listened to Christmas music.
And it’s all thanks to me. Because I was the first person to play Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas album on the radio.
Yep. To the best of my knowledge, at least, the former WMT-FM (now a country station) was the first station anywhere to put that record on the air.
And if you were around Cedar Rapids back then, you heard that music pretty much before anyone else in the world. Even before a lot of the people in Omaha, where the group got started.
I was familiar with the Mannheim Steamroller from their Fresh Aire series of albums, which founder Chip Davis, at one time a high school orchestra teacher, had originally conceived as a way to mix rock and roll rhythms with classical forms to make orchestral music more accessible to his students.
Heck, I actually go back even farther than that. I saw the “Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant Band,” the name Davis and his Steamroller compatriots played under when they were C.W. McCall’s backup band. Yes, that’s the Mannheim Steamroller playing behind the Seventies anthem, “Convoy.”
Anyway, we were so taken with “Christmas” at 96 1/12 FM that we went a little nuts. I think we played every tune on the album. WMT-AM, at that time also a music station, got into the act as well.
Months later, I chatted with a rep from American Gramophone, the Mannheim Steamroller’s record label, who confided to me that their statistics showed an unusually high concentration of album sales in Cedar Rapids. I told her I knew why.
And the album’s success in Cedar Rapids was what catapulted it into pop culture, changing holiday music forever, and giving Chip Davis a pretty nice retirement nest egg.
OK, maybe that’s pushing it. But regardless, we were first. So whether they know it or not, when Mannheim Steamroller plays Cedar Rapids, they’re coming back to the place where it all started.