One of the most successful indie labels of the 20th century is responsible for bringing music’s attention to the Winter Solstice with holiday samplers of time-honored Christmas music. Windham Hill Records founded by Will Ackerman did a bit of an end run around another hugely successful indie label, American Gramophone, who is branded as the go-to label for Christmas tunes.
American Gramophone is the label for the instrumental powerhouse, Mannheim Steamroller, who rocks Christmas music like nobody’s business. AG took the lead on mainstream Christmas music, just ahead of Ackerman taking ownership of the Winter Solstice brand with his stable of instrumentalists on holiday samplers and annual holiday tours.
Quite interesting that these two companies were hugely successful independent labels before the indie movement was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Both have amazing achievements to their credit, plenty of gold and platinum albums, launched by young guys who absolutely refused to follow the flock, specifically the direction of the major label system.
Of course both labels released other music, but it seems the holidays were a bread and butter staple for both companies meteoric rise.
Ackerman is a client, associate, and a huge inspiration. He never planned to own a record label larger than a cottage industry-size company. His vision, maverick sensibilities, a shrewd eye for business, and an ear for music that made his artists household names is a larger than life story you should research at your leisure.
When I began working in this business 29 years ago now, well-known, even quite famous musicians talked about Ackerman like he was a god…or so I thought back then. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with Will, and over time fill in the gaps of his story which is literally epic.
You should also check out the history of American Gramophone, Mannheim Steamroller, and their founder, Chip Davis, who is also a larger than life character with a fascinating story behind his brand. It was Christmas of 1986 I think I met Chip while working with Mason Williams as they collaborated on Williams’ 1987 release “Classical Gas.”
Ackerman and Davis faced the same challenges indies face today. One was that nerve-wracking transition from vinyl to the CD format; another the switch from analog to digital recordings. Yet, there they were poised on that frontier and made a run for it.
I’d tell you a whole lot more, but you’d be reading this piece for hours. Their accomplishments are long, and significant. Since we’re back on the frontier again, you may pick up some ideas looking into the history of American Gramophone and Windham Hill Records that will help as 2013 begins to unfold.