The Convoy story is one that many Mannheim Steamroller fans can recite by heart. Less well known is how Mannheim Steamroller and American Gramaphone founder Chip Davis ended up in Omaha in the first place. In this post, we shed light on both.
How a Sylvania, Ohio Native Put Down Roots in Omaha
When Chip first visited Omaha it was to attend a workshop put on by the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the early 1970s.
While there, he accepted an offer to arrange and conduct a local production of ‘Hair.’ In this rendition of the Broadway classic, Davis composed a score as big as Broadway and fit in into a dinner theater setting. The effort was so successful that Chip’s original eight-week commitment turned into a six-month affair. Unfortunately, Nebraska was not as impressive to Chip as his show was to Nebraska.
“I promised myself that I’d never live permanently in Nebraska,” he says. “It was too flat.” Chip made himself another promise at the time – that he would try anything except writing country music.
From Dinner Theater to Jingle Writing
When the show’s run ended, Chip got a job as a jingle writer for Bozell & Jacobs, a local advertising agency still successfully operating as Bozell, in Omaha. While he wrote more than 2,000 jingles, the one that made Chip famous was a snippet for the Old Home Bread company. Chip and ad executive Bill Fries crafted a series of radio and TV commercials that told the story of a fictional truck driver named C.W. McCall, his girlfriend Mavis, and the Hold Home Filler Up and Keep On Truckin’ Café.
Wildly popular, the ads garnered professional and popular acclaim. Not only did Bill and Chip win a prestigious Clio award for advertising excellence, listeners called radio stations in mass, requesting the jingle. That popularity opened an opportunity for Chip and Bill to cut a single with MGM Records under the moniker C.W. McCall, called the “Old Home Filler Up and Keep On Truckin’ Café.” Performed by the Old Home Band, the song reached the Billboard charts and was followed by an album.
The Old Home Band released a second album in 1975 called “Black Bear Road,” which rose to #12 on the Billboard pop chart. The single, “Convoy” went gold in just two weeks and sold more than a million copies in two months. As Mannheim Steamroller fans know, “Convoy” eventually sold 10 million singles and, in 1978, inspired the creation of a motion picture by the same title starring Kris Kristopherson.
In spite of himself, Chip had put down roots in Nebraska and written his way into country music. As C.W. McCall, Chip recorded nine albums, sold 20 million records and in 1976, at 27 years old, was named Country Music Writer of the Year.
A Unique Style of Country Music
Even in his early musical career, Chip did what he has always done – redefined established music genres. He called his Old Home Band music ‘techno-country’ and with French horns and big-voiced backup singers, it certainly was.
When he wasn’t recording country music, Chip was experimenting with Moog synthesizers and Baroque sonatas, and in the process, defining the unique sound that has made Mannheim Steamroller famous. Speaking of that process, Chip says, “I wanted to explore new ways of expressing music and created a sound I call 18th Century classic rock.
An Ironic Ending to a Stellar Story
Back then, as now, Chip didn’t believe in an all-acoustic or all-digital or all-analog sound. “My style is where they all meet.” Ironically, decades later, those roads converged and have remained in Omaha – a bustling city in the flat, southeast corner of Nebraska Chip proudly calls home.
Wanna know more about Chip? Read his story here.