At one time, it was said Jimmy Velvet had the largest Elvis memorabilia collection in the world. He’s had plenty of highs and lows in his life, and his twenty-year friendship with Elvis has been the catalyst for some of both.
Jimmy Velvet was a fifteen-year old high school student in Jacksonville, Florida when he met Elvis in 1955. His substitute English teacher was Mae Axton (who went on to write “Heartbreak Hotel”), and she was also a show promoter. One of the shows she booked was the Hank Snow Country Jamboree, and at the bottom of the bill was a little known singer named Elvis Presley. Velvet was a rising local entertainer, so Axton brought the young man back stage to meet Elvis.
Jimmy Velvet and Elvis became friends. Over the years, Velvet made numerous visits to Graceland, movie locations, and even recording sessions in Nashville. He had a moderately successful singing career with regional hits like “We Belong Together” and “It’s Almost Tomorrow.” He also became a diligent collector of Elvis memorabilia, one highlight being a 1965 Mercedes 600 limo that Elvis gave him.
After Elvis’ death in 1977, Vernon Presley gave Velvet the OK to create The Elvis Museum across the street from Graceland. Later, he opened another museum in Kissimmee, Florida, near Walt Disney World. For years, Velvet toured the country and a lot of the world with his traveling Legends Hall of Fame.
The most memorable purchase for his museums was the 85-foot long Elvis-A-Rama mural. It had been created in 1979 by songwriter Mitchell Torok (remember his 1959 hit “Caribbean”?), and it was on display in Nashville, TN and Branson, MO for 18 years. The name had been trademarked well before EPE embarked on its famous quest to combat the use of their Elvis and Elvis Presley trademarks in anyone else’s profit making ventures.
Jimmy Velvet had other business interests, and one of them went sour in the mid- 90’s. He was forced to put up much of his Elvis memorabilia at auction. Chris Davidson bought his first Elvis goodies at a Velvet auction in 1994, and in 1998 he purchased the Elvis-A-Rama mural and its trademarked name from Velvet.
One year later, Davidson opened his Las Vegas Elvis museum, using the trademark Elvis-A-Rama as its name. If EPE didn’t like that, there wasn’t much they could do about it. As it turned out, there was one thing. They bought the Elvis-A-Rama Museum two months ago and announced it would close next year.
Jimmy Velvet still owns a small portion of his Elvis collection. I won’t be surprised if we hear from him again.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold