Jimmy Velvet talks about

"Inside The Dream" his book & his life.

EIN Interview

Fans will know Jimmy Velvet as a friend of Elvis’ as well as the creator of the Elvis Presley Museum and owner of one of the world's biggest collectors of rock’n’roll memorabilia.

Jimmy Velvet was also an enthusiastic photographer who always had his camera with him. Being a contemporary of these mega-stars he managed to capture thousands of candid photographs in a way that a press photographer couldn’t.

The photographic memoirs of Jimmy Velvet’s amazing life ‘Inside The Dream’ was released in 2007.


EIN’s Piers Beagley recently caught up with him to chat about his amazing journey and how he managed to take so many fabulous candid photos.

Jimmy Velvet was also a successful recording artist and charting pop-star who toured the USA heavily during the heyday of Rock’n’Roll. This placed him on tours with almost all the major stars that you can imagine, as well as in the studio with his contemporaries. He toured with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard – and ELVIS - just to name a few!

In 1964 Jimmy hit the big-time with chart success of ‘We Belong Together’ and ‘To The Aisle’ which led to many tours as well as TV and radio appearances.

After the sixties Jimmy ran a recording studio while still performing and so stayed friends with a load of people in the music business including characters like George Jones, James Brown, Sam Phillips, Otis Blackwell, Priscilla Presley, Dolly Parton, Garth Books, Travis Tritt and countless Country & Western stars.

The really exciting aspect was that Jimmy Velvet was also an enthusiastic photographer who always had his camera with him. Being a contemporary of these mega-stars he managed to capture thousands of candid photographs in a way that a press photographer couldn’t. The book 'Inside The Dream' - of more than 1000 photographs - is only the "Best Of" his collection of several 1000’s more! Several of his candid Elvis photographs are well-known, however these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The photographic memoirs of Jimmy Velvet’s amazing life ‘Inside The Dream’ was released in 2007.

EIN’s Piers Beagley recently caught up with him to chat about his amazing journey and how he managed to take so many fabulous candid photos.

EIN: We have remained in contact over the years and it is a delight to see you produce such an amazing book of your life and all these marvellous photos. How long did it take to get together?

Jimmy Velvet: Thank you Piers - the book took about one year to assemble.

EIN: You mention in the book that your 6000 or so negatives & photos had not been in your own possession for a while. What happened there and where were they?

J.V: 317 were in my car which was stolen in 1962, the majority of them were stored at my Grandmothers house. I would send photos home to her while I was on the road.

EIN: have you any idea how many photographs are actually in the book and how many stars are featured?

J.V: There are 1096 photos and 508 stars that I met. Plenty of photos of Elvis as I am sure you have seen.

EIN: We have chatted before about your life with Elvis (GO HERE) but there are still a few new questions I’d like to ask. In the book there are backstage photographs from Elvis’ memorable concert in Jacksonville August 1956. This is where Judge Gooding had warned Elvis that he must tone down his act. What are your memories of that particular event, was Elvis anyway apprehensive about the court order?

J.V: Yes, it bothered Elvis quite a bit. Judge Miriam Gooding was seated in the last row of the Florida Theatre. Elvis made mention of it when he sang a line of: "I want you, I need you, I love you" and he sang "cause I can't sing when I'm standing still"!

EIN: The marvellous color snaps of you with Elvis from August 1956 are pretty unusual for the time. Candid backstage photographs of Elvis in colour in those days are pretty rare. Was there any reason you happened to use colour for that particular day?

J.V: Color film was new then and I decided to buy a 12 exposure roll to try it out.

EIN: I particularly like the photo of you and Elvis’ backing-band. Everyone has an interesting expression on their faces with Bill Black lost in thought. Did you stay friendly with those guys and have you run in to DJ Fontana or Scotty Moore recently?

J.V: Yes, we are still good friends. We still live in the Nashville area but due to our busy schedules we aren't able to visit as much as we'd like to.


EIN: By being a performer and part of the musicians you obviously got closer to these amazing stars than any press photographer and so got some amazingly open and candid photographs. Were you taking these photos only for yourself or did you think they would ever be published?

J.V: I've always loved photography but what prompted me to carry a camera is that my Grandmother always wanted to know where I was and with whom so I would send her photos of actually places I had been and people I had met. I sent her the photos.

EIN: There’s a lovely one of you and Chuck Berry looking very relaxed. And you obviously ran into Check Berry many times over the years. What can you tell me about Chuck?

J.V: A most fantastic writer, performer, singer and guitarist! He always wanted cash before going on stage and he knows who he is. I love Chuck, he's great.

EIN: One of the most astounding photographs in the book is of you with Jerry lee Lewis playing piano while Buddy Holly plays guitar and Don Everly of the Everly Brothers looks on. Imagine you and Jerry Lee, and Buddy Holly and Don Everly all jamming together! How did that unique moment come about?

J.V: We were on a Florida Tour and had fun jamming on stage before showtime. Phil Everly actually took the photo with my camera. We had a great time.

EIN: There seem to be plenty of other unique events documented in the book where lots of artists are hanging around together. Do you know if any of these unbelievable musical gatherings were ever recorded? Are there missing tapes that you’d love to find?

J.V: I don't know of any missing tapes. If there are any, what a find that would be!

EIN: The Everly Brothers are one of my favourite groups and you have obviously spent a fair bit of time with them over the years. They are pretty famous for their sibling rivalry.. what stories can you tell me about them?

J.V: I never saw any problems between them, if there were any, you wouldn't have noticed. They were professionals at the shows. I've heard that they are still off & on, which is sad.

EIN: Jerry Lee Lewis is also featured a lot throughout your book. Any fun recollections of The Killer in action?

J.V: I always enjoyed my time with The Killer. Like Elvis, there was never a dull moment. At the show in '59 he set the piano on fire!

EIN: When did you last see Jerry Lee?

J.V: The last time I saw Jerry Lee was in Memphis several years back.

EIN: Apart from Elvis there are so many other Super-stars that you have met. Musicians like Bill Haley, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Pat Boone, Carl Perkins, The Everlys. Of all these people who stands out for you?

J.V: Wow, that's a tough question because they're all my favorites. If I had to choose I suppose it would be Elvis and Dean Martin. Elvis for his great friendship and Dean who took me under his wing for a time until I was ready to fly on my own. I loved Dean's entire family.

How many stars can you spot in this mini-collage?

EIN: Of course way too many of these fabulous stars are no longer with us. Who’s too-soon-death shocked you the most?

J.V: Rick Nelson. We were close. I was with him only a couple of days before the plane crash.

EIN: I haven’t mentioned all the female stars you also met or hung around with - like Connie Francis, Laverne Baker, Natalie Wood, The Angels, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Joan Jett! Of all the female stars you have met who has impressed you the most?

J.V: Another tough question, they're all incredible. Dolly and I have known each other since 1964. Connie and her parents were special to me in the earlier years. Again, they're all such special women.

EIN: What can you tell me about the Natalie Wood birthday party (right) that is featured in the book?

J.V: We were throwing Natalie a birthday party that night at her home. She was filming Penelope. She came home about an hour late and we surprised her with a band, p resents on the diving board and filled the pool with balloons. Natalie's father, Nick was there and so was her sister, Lana along with Ryan O'Neil. I remember that Tuesday Weld was close to having her baby. Tuesday Weld co-starred with Elvis in "Wild In The Country" and the premiere of that movie was at the Lowes Theatre in Memphis. I attended the premiere with Elvis and his family. Another bit of trivia: When Elvis was a teen, he worked at the Lowes Theatre as an usher.

Elvis was fired from that position because he would sit down and quote every line of the James Dean movies instead of doing his job. (laughing)

EIN: There are a few photographs of you at RCA’s Studio B with Elvis. In particular at the ‘His Hand In Mine’ recording sessions. What do you remember of those times?

J.V: Elvis had a great sense of humor and loved to have fun at these sessions. He would send out to Burger Boy and order 100 burgers and fries! He was so fun and spirited.

EIN: Studio B in Nashville has a fabulous warm ambient sound. Did you record there a lot yourself?

J.V: Yes I did. I loved Studio "B" and Bill Porter was an outstanding Engineer.

EIN: How often did you work with the Jordanaires? Do you still see them around, they always seem to be working?

J.V: I've worked with the Jordanaires several sessions starting in 1961. I still see Gordon and Ray every now and then.

EIN: Your career really took a big leap in the sixties and you seemed to have toured an awful lot. What was the highlight of those touring days for you?

J.V: Every show was a highlight. Forty people on a 39 passenger bus, working with 4 to 12 acts at a time...WOW! It was incredible.

EIN: Later on you went into music production as well. How long did that last and did you run your own studio?

J.V: My Brother-In-Law (Larry Butler) was Chips Moman's partner and I eventually bought out "American Sound Studios". I also produced all of my songs with the exception of "To The Aisle" which was produced by Felton Jarvis before he went with Elvis.

EIN: You still stayed in touch with Elvis and had an even closer friendship with Vernon in the 1970s. How did you happen to be there to be sworn is as Deputy Sherriff along with Elvis and Vernon in 1973?

J.V: Elvis and Vernon asked me if I wanted to be sworn in. Roy "Skip" Nixon who was a mutual friend to all of us, swore us in together at the same time.

EIN: In the 1980s you were occupied with running the Elvis Presley museums that you had set up. How many of them were there eventually?

J.V: Memphis, Nashville, Honolulu, two in Orlando and I also had two mobile museums touring as well.

EIN: It is such a shame that your museum in Hawaii doesn’t continue because it was a place that Elvis loved and is also so associated with Elvis? What happened there?

J.V: I opened the Honolulu museum in 1982 and the contract ran out in 1987.

EIN: What was the most treasured possession of Elvis’ that you ever owned? I don’t mean the most expensivebut the most personal?

J.V: Hmmm, I would say his handwritten TCB Oath.

EIN: I have always admired the composer Otis Blackwell ('Great Balls Of Fire', 'Don't Be Cruel') he seemed such a genuine character and how sad was it that he never got to meet Elvis in person. I know that he was another dear friend of yours and very sadly he died back in 2002. What can you tell me about Otis?

J.V: I met Otis in 1959 in New York City at MGM. He had written "Handy Man" for Jimmy Jones. We remained ever since our first meeting. Otis was incredible, what a talent, he sang like Elvis actually. It just came natural to him. I was with Otis when he was in a coma what a sad time. At his funeral I spent time with his family, he was truly blessed.

(Right:Otis Blackwell in Jimmy Velvet's owned 'American Sound' studios. The same one's used for Elvis' 'Memphis Sessions')

EIN: What about the great James Brown, any stories there?

J.V: James didn't allow any mistakes in his shows. He had zero tolerance for error and even fined his band members if they made a mistake. He was precise and a dynamic entertainer!

EIN: Another fascinating character that you spent time with is the wonderful Sam Phillips. You were a record producer yourself. What was he like, as eccentric as he is said to be?

J.V: I loved Sam. In fact I worked with Sam, Sally, Judd and Billy Sherril in building the "Sam C. Phillips Studio" in the Old Cumberland Lodge Building in Nashville. I gave him my famous Minah Bird "Inky" that Sam loved so much. It was a fun time.

EIN: You have spent a lot of time with some amazing Country Music stars. What can you tell me about the great George Jones?

J.V: George. What a great man and my favorite Country Star. I sold George & Nancy my farm in Franklin, TN where he still lives today. We've shared some wonderful times together.

EIN: Finally let me ask you about Johnny Cash.

J.V: Johnny & June were the most beloved couple. We lived about 2 miles apart here in Hendersonville. Johnny's roots go deep. I met Johnny in 1958 and I met June in 1959.

Three weeks before June's untimely death, I was at the local hardware store, Lowes and we chatted for the longest time while June was choosing flowers for their home. I happened to have my camera with me that day and took a few photos of them together. From what I've been told, they might be the last photos taken of them together in public. June loved Lowes, she loved flowers. Both of them were such a pillar of the community and are truly missed.

EIN: You feature a surprising number of newer famous Country & Western stars in the book as well, do any of them talk with you about Elvis?

J.V: Oh yes, Travis Tritt is a huge Elvis fan. On a visit to my Nashville Museum one day I gave Travis the TCB that Elvis gave to Red West. Tricia Yearwood, a very dear friend, is also a huge Elvis fan. I had one of Elvis's belt buckles framed in a shadowbox and gave it to her.

EIN: There’s one more star to question you about, Marilyn Monroe! How incredible to have a candid colour snap of someone so elusive and famous?

J.V: That photo was a once in a lifetime event! I was in the Air Force at the time, at Hempstead A.F. Base and read that Marilyn Monroe lived in the city (New York). I went into the city and wanted to see where she lived. It just so happened she was leaving her residence (Sutton Place Apartments) with her girlfriend and I was right there and met them. What perfect timing and Marilyn was such a sweetheart. The meeting was brief but the memory has lasted forever.

EIN: I have to admit it that your stories are so fascinating and interesting, like how you met Marilyn, that the one negative take I have on your remarkable book is that I want to hear your personal stories about every single photo! Are you ever going to be able to publish the stories to go behind this dream life of yours?

J.V: I'm asked the same question quite often. The volume would have been too large to handle if I told stories behind each photo and we were working to meet a deadline for press. I am working on an audio CD/DVD of the book. Unfortunately, our postal system eliminated their International Media Rate shipping and the shipping rates are now so expensive to send one book as it weighs 5lbs. to ship. If the books are purchased by the case then the post office ships freight and is much more cost effective.

EIN: Will you be going to Elvis Week this year? Can fans get hold of any copies of your photographs that way? Can they buy other photographs they have seen them from your website or perhaps by contacting you?

J.V: Absolutely! Yes! Yes! and Yes! I will be with Nella and Brian Allward at the Memphis Airport Plaza (formerly known as the Clarion). During Elvis Week this year, I am running a special on my book. The cost will be dropped from $45.00 to $30.00. That price will be good for all of the Elvis fans who visit our website and mention you read about the discount on this Elvis Information Network website. We will adjust the billing accordingly.

EIN: That’s fantastic and I really wish you well and enjoy Elvis Week, I wish I could be there. Jimmy it has been an absolute pleasure talking with you as always. I hope that we can meet again soon.

J.V: Thank you Piers and it's my pleasure as well. Hope to see you too, thank you and God Bless.


CLICK HERE to 'Inside The Dream' website - for more info & purchase details

EIN's 'Inside The Dream' book review featuring more of Jimmy's candid photos will be published tomorrow.

Interview by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, August 2009

Click to comment on this interview


(Right: Elvis with Jimmy Velvet at Nashville's Studio B. Elvis has the broken finger and is there for the 'His Hand In Mine' gospel recording session)

Click here for the 'Inside The Dream' website. 

Other relevant EIN articles

Jimmy Velvet talks about his friend Elvis with EIN

Click here for Interview with Elvis' cousin Billy Smith and other Memphis Mafia members, Marty lacker & Lamar Fike.

'From Elvis To Garth' Bobby Wood & The Memphis Boys at the American Sound Studios

Click here for an interview with Larry Geller

Click here for an interview with Elvis' friend & photographer Ed Bonja

Click to comment on this interview

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The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.








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