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Air Fest to feature singer Jimmy Velvet

Jimmy Velvet has shared the stage with Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, knew a young Garth Brooks and was a close friend of Elvis Presley. Velvet will be here sharing his stories during Jamestown Air Fest 2010 starting next Wednesday...

Jimmy Velvet has shared the stage with Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, knew a young Garth Brooks and was a close friend of Elvis Presley. Velvet will be here sharing his stories during Jamestown Air Fest 2010 starting next Wednesday through Saturday.

Velvet had a string of hits on the charts in the 1950s and 1960s including "We Belong Together," "Blue Velvet," "Teen Angel" and "It's Almost Tomorrow."

"It was certainly a lot of fun and different for me, fresh out of the farm from Jacksonville (Fla.)," Velvet said of his recording career in a phone interview from Las Vegas.

Velvet was there when rock 'n' roll as it's known today was just getting off the ground.

"Back in those days there wasn't a lot of publicity," he said. "The news media didn't cover rock 'n' roll or country music, they thought they were fads."

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When Velvet returned from the U.S. Air Force in 1957 he played two shows in northern California with Chuck Berry and Lloyd Price. Berry is often thought as one of the original bad boys of rock 'n' roll.

"Chuck was a very nice guy, he just loved nice, young girls," Velvet said. Two years later Berry was arrested for transporting a 14-year-old from El Paso, Texas, to St. Louis.

If Berry is to be considered the father of rock 'n' roll, the music's storied son would be Buddy Holly. Velvet played some shows with Holly and the Everly Brothers in 1958.

But Velvet said early on he was into country music. In his book "Inside the Dream, The Jimmy Velvet Story" shows many pictures with him and Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and other famous country musicians.

Velvet's home in Hendersonville, Tenn., is one block from Cash's final resting place.

A chance to see Cash's future bride, June Carter in her youth, backstage at a Hank Snow show in Jacksonville in 1955 changed Velvet's life forever.

Velvet's high school English teacher, Mae Axton, wrote the song "Heart Break Hotel" and promoted concerts for a second job.

Axton got Velvet backstage at the show, and while waiting for Carter, he met a young guitar player and the two hit it off. After their conversation the guitar player shook his hand and said "My name is Elvis Presley."

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"I thought what in the world is an Elvis Presley?" Velvet said.

The two would remain close friends until Presley's final years.

Over the years the King and Velvet had some great times, he said. But one time sticks out in Velvet's mind after a show in New Orleans in 1956.

Velvet was having trouble getting backstage and Presley told the security guard he was his cousin and to let him in.

"I thought that was one of the great things anyone ever did," he said.

Over the years Velvet amassed one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia, from his belt buckles to an old Mercedes Benz limo.

Velvet had to sell off most of his memorabilia, but is now in Vegas working at a museum set up by two other Elvis collectors.

While his stories about the early days of rock 'n' roll are one of a kind, Velvet also has thousands of pictures that have never been released until his book in 2007.

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"Inside the Dream, The Jimmy Velvet Story" has more than 1,000 never before released photos chronicling most of the 800 or more celebrities Velvet has run into.

When Velvet started performing, his grandmother wanted to know who he was with at the shows. He brought his Brownie Hawkeye camera along and sent her more than 8,000 negatives.

About one-eighth of those comprise his coffee table book, which he will sell and autograph at the Air Fest.

He will also have CDs for sale along with photographs. Velvet will be at the Air Fest all three days and will sing a few songs with the Borderline Band on Friday night.

Also just added to the lineup at the Air Fest is Cynthia Pepper, who starred in the 1964 movie "Kissin' Cousins" with Presley. She will be there on Thursday and Friday.

Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at brodgers@jamestownsun.com

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