Joseph A. Tunzi (JAT Productions)

Interview conducted between Joseph Tunzi and EIN, August 2012

Comment on this interview


The EIN Interview (August 2012)

Part 1 (of 2 parts)


Other JAT Productions titles include:

"Elvis in Tickle Me"

"Elvis Hawaii 61"

"Elvis Starring in Oklahoma"

"Elvis The Documentaries"

"Elvis Presley as The One Called Charro!"

Introduction: The names Joseph Tunzi and JAT (Publications) Productions need little introduction. Through his company, JAT Productions, Joseph Tunzi has been the most prolific publisher of Elvis books with more than 40 titles released since "The First Elvis Video Price and Reference Guide" in 1988.

While JAT Productions is perhaps best known for its many "jumpsuit" books showcasing the King live on stage, it has also released numerous "information" and "photo-journal" books, including the Elvis Sessions series ("Elvis Sessions IV" is due out in 2013), several Elvis film titles, "Elvis No. 1 The Complete Chart History Of Elvis Presley","Elvis '68 at 40 Retrospective", Elvis '71 at 40" and its latest release, "Elvis '69".

In addition, JAT Productions has produced various Elvis related DVDs (e.g. the popular "Hot Shots and Cool Clips" series); special vinyl releases (e.g. "Elvis '68 at 40"), and several other items including "Showroom Internationale- The 40th Anniversary Commemorative" menu.

Joseph Tunzi is also a collector of rare Elvis recordings, a number of which have been released in recent years ("A Little Less Conversation"; "Maybelline").

In Part 1 of his fascinating (and very long) interview, Joseph Tunzi tells EIN about:

  • how it all started for Joe Tunzi
  • meeting Elvis
  • publishing Elvis books
  • the price of Elvis photobooks
  • color vs black & white visuals
  • moving to hardcover publishing
  • his latest release, "Elvis '69" - the GREATEST BOOK ever published by JAT
  • what we can expect in "Sessions IV" and when it is scheduled for release
  • collaborating with Joseph Pirzada and Paul Lichter
  • Elvis soundboards
  • unreleased, rare Elvis recordings...........and a lot more!


Visit the JAT Publishing website


................The Interview (Part 1)...............

EIN: Joseph, many thanks for taking time to talk to EIN. It is appreciated. Firstly, who is Joseph A. Tunzi?

JAT: I worked at several radio stations in the Chicago area from the early 1970s up until about 1982 as an account executive in charge of selling radio advertisements.

In 1982, I formed my own publishing company which up until 1987 strictly dealt with direct mail advertising. At one time, I also owned a record store in Chicago, and worked part-time at an air freight forwarder at O’Hare Airport. In 1988, I published my first book, "The First Elvis Video Price And Reference Guide".

In the mid-90’s I sold to Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) an unreleased recording of “A Little Less Conversation” that was later turned into a #1 hit remix.

In 2008, I published Steve Binder’s memoir on the 1968 “Singer Presents Elvis” television special. In 2013, my company will be celebrating 25 years in publishing predominantly Elvis-related books, CDs and DVDs.

I’ve published over 40 books from 1988 through 2012. Photos from my photo archives have been used in a number of Sony / FTD titles as well as in magazines and books by other authors.

EIN: How did you become an Elvis fan?

JAT: How does anyone become a fan? Most people become fans of something through a number of different paths. Some people become fans of their favorite sports team simply as a rite of passage from one family member, usually a parent, down to their children. It amazes me over the years how many younger people go down to Memphis during Elvis Week. I can’t say that I went down this same path. In fact, it might be the other way around as my parents grew to have an appreciation for Elvis after I did, although my dad did take a liking to Elvis when “It’s Now Or Never” came out.
Of course, there are other ways to become a fan. It can be something as simple as you liked one thing that they did and you seek out more to like. It can be that you aspire to the ideals of the person or group that you’re a fan of. Ultimately, though, it overwhelms you into a submission. That being said, I’m not just a fan of Elvis. I’m a fan of good music, television, and films. To answer your original question, I became a fan after I watched the “Welcome Home Elvis” television special.
EIN: How many Elvis concerts did you attend and what was the best one - and why?

JAT: I saw Elvis perform on a number of occasions. I believe I documented the shows I saw in a book I did called “Elvis Concerts.” I saw all three shows in Chicago on the June, 1972 tour. The following year I saw Elvis perform in St. Louis, Missouri and in Atlanta, Georgia on the June, 1973 tour. In late 1974, I saw Elvis perform both shows in South Bend, Indiana on September 30 and October 1. I saw Elvis perform in Lake Tahoe in May, 1976. After that, I didn’t see Elvis perform until October, 1976 when I saw both shows here at Chicago Stadium as well as the Champaign, Illinois show and the South Bend, Indiana show during that same October, 1976 tour. I last saw Elvis perform live in Chicago in early May, 1977. The best show I witnessed vocally was the St. Louis show in June, 1973. The most laid-back and casual show was the matinee show in Chicago in June, 1972.
EIN: Did you ever meet Elvis and talk with him?

JAT: I documented this in my book “Encore Performance IV: Back To The Windy City.” I met Elvis at O’Hare airport here in Chicago in the early morning hours on October 14, 1976. Elvis was flying into Chicago for the two shows he performed to start that tour. I already had purchased tickets to see both shows. I was working part-time at the airport for the air freight forwarder, Shulman Air Freight. My father was a police sergeant, who, among his duties, handled security at the airport. He found out about three hours beforehand that Elvis was coming into the airport and tipped me off and made arrangements for me to meet Elvis and the Colonel. The meeting was pretty much unscripted.

Another police officer lent his badge so that I could be present when Elvis arrived. My father and the Colonel were talking when I got there. They acted as if they had known each other for years. One thing I do remember the Colonel saying was that it was ultimately up to Elvis if he wanted to meet with anyone once he came off the Lisa Marie. I took it to mean that Elvis would sometimes go directly from coming off the plane to the limousine waiting for him. Yes, I did get to talk briefly with Elvis. We both exchanged pleasantries.
EIN: You are the biggest publisher of Elvis titles in the world with more than 40 books to date. How did JAT Productions come about?

JAT: Thank you for the compliment. In the 1980s there was a great interest in collectibles. Everything from records, baseball and football trading cards, you name it. Our first book was a tongue-in-cheek look at videos, as the market for videos had been booming over the last ten years. I can remember ¾” video tape machines. In fact, here in Chicago, I paid to have Carmen Trombetta make me a ¾” tape of the 1977 CBS television special “Elvis In Concert” and the NBC “Memories Of Elvis” television special back when they originally aired. Of course, later came Betamax and VHS.
As far as how we’ve been able to sustain JAT Productions for nearly twenty-five years, I think there is a simple answer. When we first set out to publish books on Elvis, we never set out to have all the bells and whistles one would expect from a major publishing firm in our first books. When I say that, I mean we only in the last five years have begun publishing in hardback format and full-color photography. We stayed within our budgets for each project. Many of our earlier books were strictly in black & white.

Too many of the Elvis books I see coming from new names in the Elvis world seem to think they must have all color photography or that they must have a hard cover. You simply cannot go 0-60 miles per hour when publishing your first books independently. As a business, you will struggle and likely fail.

There have been a few individuals who have attempted this short-sighted tactic. The costs associated with photo research, the graphic design, the text, clearances and the printing will kill your business, if you even attempted to go this route. I know this for a fact because one individual in the Elvis world chose to use the same printing place I chose at the time for the printing of my books and they questioned me about how reliable this person was as far as making their payments for the printing costs of their project. I took that to mean they were behind on their printing cost payments. This individual hasn’t done a book on Elvis since.
One of the main reasons why we didn’t go with hardback for so long was because we knew some of our dealers would complain about the extra costs associated with shipping hardcover books versus soft cover. When we switched, we felt the timing was right and the right projects to make that switch were for our twentieth year publishing “Elvis Portraits,” the “‘68 At 40 - Retrospective” book, and the “Elvis Concerts” book.

EIN: Do you consider there is a major difference in viewer appreciation if photos are presented in color rather than black & white?

JAT: Most people prefer color to black and white. I beg to differ. The beauty of black and white is that it captures the essence of what photography was meant to be. The greatest and the most historic Elvis photos were shot in black and white. Most of the significant photographs from '54 up until '60 were shot in black and white.

EIN: Your '68 @40' book with Steve Binder was a stunner. You have also published the great release "Elvis No. 1 The Complete Chart History Of Elvis Presley" and early on JAT’s history, "The First Elvis Video Price and Reference Guide". Do you have any similar projects, emphasizing information or combining equal detailed text to stunning photos, in the pipeline?

JAT: I think “Elvis Sessions IV” will be that book. One of the things we are going to do is combine and update the “Chart History” book information and possibly even the video information and incorporate it into “Elvis Sessions IV.” There will be a narrative text in the book as well. There will be both color and black & white photography incorporated into the book too. There will be a great deal of records and pictures and documents shown throughout the book.
EIN: The marketing for "Elvis ‘69" states that it is the GREATEST BOOK ever done by JAT Publishing. Please tell us about it?

JAT: It just came out about a two weeks ago. It tells a story about the monumental year 1969 in Elvis’ career. It’s chock full of newspaper clippings, documents, photos. The book covers Elvis’ recording sessions at American that produced the hits “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” the film “Change Of Habit,” Elvis meeting with Tom Jones in June, 1969, Elvis’ opening night and the press conference that followed , photos of Elvis throughout his initial Las Vegas engagement at the International Hotel and Elvis attending Nancy Sinatra‘s opening night show.


EIN: How much text is in "Elvis '69" and who contributed to it?

JAT: There is a fairly decent amount of text in the book. Brenda Nies wrote the text with some assistance. She also did the creative design and Jimmy Carpenter did the cover design.
EIN: Another JAT release that many fans are eagerly anticipating is “Elvis Sessions IV”. What will be new in your “Elvis Sessions IV” book that fans need to buy it again?

JAT: “Elvis Sessions IV” will incorporate most of the post-production sessions for the films, where documentation has been located. It will also incorporate the chart history information and update that information. It won’t just be a book for Elvis fans. This will be a book for music fans, in general.

EIN: There were some fabulous photos of Elvis in the studio in "Elvis Sessions III" - have you discovered any more rare photos to include in your new book?

JAT: Sessions photos to me are the most historic and are a main priority to try to acquire. It’s important the way he looked and dressed while he recorded. Not only can you listen to Elvis but also see how he looked when he recorded some of his greatest hits such as “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Burning Love.” That said, yes we have found some new session photos.
EIN: What new research have you done for "Elvis S
essions IV", any fruitful new interviews and great new Tunzi discoveries?

JAT: There are some new discoveries. We’ve had access to the William Morris Agency, Variety magazine, Billboard magazine, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television And Radio Artists), AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists), the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) offices in Los Angeles, which also covers Las Vegas and Hawaii, as well as Nashville and Memphis. The Al Dvorin archives here in Chicago and Elvis’ personal lyric book, which features lyrics to some very popular songs no one has ever even suggested a rumor that Elvis recorded, rehearsed or performed live.
In closing, I’ve come across what I think is one of the “holy grails” that a lot of fans have been dreaming of. I’m not at liberty to discuss what it is yet. This is not meant as a teaser.
EIN: Will it have an index this time?

JAT: Absolutely 100% Yes.

EIN: Do you have an expected release date for "Elvis Sessions IV"?

JAT: "Elvis Sessions IV" has turned out to be like creating the ultimate monster. What happened was that we got access to all these people and places that graciously opened their archives. Everything from Post production sessions for the films, to incorporating the Chart History elements and updating those elements into the book. So it’s taken a while to secure all of this. As of right now we are shooting for August of 2013 as a release date.

EIN: One of the most interesting chapters in "Elvis Sessions III" was the rumor mill. Have you heard of anything exciting and new since the last book came out?

JAT: To put it succinctly, yes. Rumors, though, need to be put in context. We have re-titled this section “Rumors From The Bases” in “Elvis Sessions IV.”

There will be some disappointments regarding rumors and there will be some excitement regarding rumors.

Unfortunately, some people like to make up stories and tell tall tales about unknown Elvis recordings / film / video that is hard to substantiate. This is the reason why we created “The Rumor Mill” in “Elvis Sessions III” to begin with.

EIN: You list plenty of rehearsals in "Elvis Sessions III". Do you know if more tapes have been found?

JAT: This is an interesting question. I do know for a fact that several years ago before Myrna Smith of the backing group the Sweet Inspirations passed away that she played for me and told me of some rehearsal recordings that she had from working with Elvis. These dated from 1969-1971 mostly. If you watch the motion picture “Elvis, That’s The Way It Is,” note how Elvis rehearsed. In mid-July, Elvis rehearsed basically with his rhythm section (Burton, Scheff, Tutt, Hardin, Wilkinson, Hodge).

About a week before opening night, the background vocalists (The Imperials, The Sweet Inspirations) began rehearsing learning the new songs that Elvis wanted to incorporate into his live show. In fact you see Felton playing the acetates of the new songs for both the Imperials and the Sweet Inspirations in the film. Later you see Elvis begins rehearsing with his rhythm section and the backup singers.

Finally, Elvis moves to the main showroom stage and begins rehearsing with the rhythm section, the backup vocalists and the orchestra. If there’s rehearsal tapes out there, those individuals from the rhythm section, the backing groups and the orchestra conductor would be the first individuals privy to rehearsal tapes, as they would be the ones that would need to learn new songs.

I think it’s interesting that the recent FTD kind of indicates this same sort of building-block approach to rehearsing with Elvis performing “Separate Ways” with just the rhythm section and then performing it again with the orchestra.

Any member of the rhythm section, a backing vocal group or even Bobby Morris, Joe Guercio or Marty Harrell might be privy to owning a rehearsal tape. Besides Burton, Tutt, Scheff, Hardin, Wilkinson, and Hodge, this could also include temporary rhythm section members Larry Muhoberac, Bob Lanning, Emory Gordy, Duke Bardwell, Stump Monroe, and even Larrie Londin.

This would also include members of the Impe rials, the Stamps, Voice, and the Sweet Inspirations. And yes, there are some rehearsals in the private collections of those who wish to remain anonymous.

EIN: You also say that several rehearsals are in the hands of collectors. Have you actually heard these tapes and is there some stunning new material that you know fans need to hear?

JAT: Stunning is not the proper word. Surprising or interesting would be a closer term I would use to describe. I doubt there’s anyone out there that has a rehearsal by Elvis where he sings ten new songs never before heard. That would be stunning. I guess the word “stunning” is in the ears of the beholder. Yes, I have heard some parts of rehearsals that no one has ever heard before.
EIN: Did Elvis really try out 'My Sweet Lord', 'Ivory Tower', 'Poetry In Motion' as your book states? These sound more like one-liners to EIN!

JAT: I can’t substantiate “Poetry In Motion” and “Ivory Tower.” Those two were from a rumor we received prior to publishing “Elvis Sessions III.” The person who claimed this exists was from what we thought at the time a credible source, though I must say I now have my doubts. This is the reason why both “Ivory Tower” and “Poetry In Motion” were put in their proper place in “The Rumor Mill” in “Elvis Sessions III.”
As for “My Sweet Lord,” Elvis most definitely rehearsed it in preparation for a Las Vegas engagement.


EIN: And in relation to unreleased ‘live” recordings from the 1950s, what songs are you aware of that are in the hands of private collectors?

JAT: After the recent leak of the live recording of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” on Youtube and the release of “A Boy From Tupelo - The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings,” I think we’re pretty much up to date on known live recordings from the 1950s, though I’m sure as the sun rises and sets, that more live recordings by Elvis dating from the 1950s are still out there. When you just think about how many shows Elvis gave from 1954-1957 alone, there’s no doubt that there’s someone out there who has a recording. The most likely scenario is that they don’t really know what they have because the recording was handed down to them from a family member and they either don’t have the proper equipment to play back the recording or don’t have the general know-how to use the equipment properly, if they have the equipment.
EIN: How much do you know of the tapes David Briggs might have?

JAT: David Briggs has a vast tape archive of artists he’s worked with and produced. Part of his archives is a combination of soundboard live shows he worked with Elvis and the micro-cassette recordings he did in 1976. Some of the soundboards he has are incomplete. The micro-cassette recordings were recorded by David just for historic knowledge of recording with Elvis at Graceland’s Jungle Room. Elvis was fully aware of the recordings. I don’t think David could have foreseen that those sessions at Graceland would be Elvis’ last recording sessions. The micro-cassette machine was battery operated. David has located some of the tapes but many have simply been misplaced.
EIN: Since you
released "Elvis Sessions III" a large amount of the "Essential bootleg" and "Unreleased Highlights" material has been released officially. Do you think Ernst & FTD are releasing the right projects and will these sections be fully updated?

JAT: Generally speaking, I think FTD is doing a outstanding job. Yes, I might not have released things in the same order as what Ernst and Roger have, but for the most part I don’t have any qualms about what FTD has released. I don’t think FTD necessarily should have released the “Closing Night” show from September, 1973 and I really don’t think that they should have released some of the comments that were later removed from second pressings of the “From Sunset To Vegas” FTD.

I would like to see FTD release a few things. Those would be the August 3, 1969 show as well as the opening and closing shows from the January / February, 1970 engagement. Besides those three shows, I would like to see FTD release a show similar to the show I saw in St. Louis on June 28, 1973. It had a powerful set list and Elvis was on his game.

We published the set list in our “Elvis Concerts” book:
Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001 Theme)
See See Rider
I Got A Woman / Amen
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Steamroller Blues
You Gave Me A Mountain
Love Me
Blue Suede Shoes
Long Tall Sally / Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On / Your Mama Don’t Dance / Flip, Flop And Fly / Jailhouse Rock / Shake Rattle And Roll / Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On (reprise)
I’m Leavin’
How Great Thou Art
How Great Thou Art (ending reprise)
Hound Dog
What Now My Love
Suspicious Minds
Band Introductions
I’ll Remember You
An American Trilogy
I Can’t Stop Loving You
A Big Hunk O’ Love
Can’t Help Falling In Love
Closing Riff
Yes, we will update both the “Essential Bootlegs” and the “Unreleased Highlights” sections in “Elvis Sessions IV.”
EIN: It seems that FTD is running out of "great" new soundboards to release. What important soundboards do you know of, or would you choose for them to release in the future?

JAT: I think an approach similar to what FTD did with the “Dixieland Rocks” release would be worthwhile, be it that they only choose the best performances from a specific tour where they have a lot of shows on soundboard. I know FTD tries to mix it up some, as most of the soundboards they have are from 1974 and onwards. If I had to pick an individual show, it probably would have to be the final concert from Indianapolis, Indiana on June 26, 1977 only because of the historical significance.

EIN: You have been recently working with Joe Pirzada on several of his book/CD combo projects. EIN was particularly impressed with the "Such A Night in Pearl Harbor" (Bloch Arena Hawaii) book/cd. What input do you have into these projects, is it just the photo content?

JAT: Not just photo content. I have helped Joe find better audio and video / film sources.

The only thing I haven’t been involved in is the press releases for MRS product as I leave that up to Joe Pirzada to decide when and how he wants to announce an upcoming project.

Ultimately, my role in teaming up with MRS is to come up with the best possible leads and product.

EIN: Have you any more Pirzada/Tunzi projects being worked on that you can tell us about?

JAT: Yes, Joe and I have been working on several projects that I think a lot of fans will be pleased with. I will not divulge information, as I wish to respect the manner in which Joe wants to announce his product.
EIN: What did you think of the Joe Pirzada/Boxcar Final Curtain project? Should EPE have done their 'Elvis In Concert' release by now possibly with a better edit?

JAT: Personally, I’m not too keen on material from 1977. It’s hard to look at it objectively and say that Elvis looks and sounds great. I think had Todd Morgan of EPE not passed away, several years ago, I think we would have either already had a video release of “Elvis In Concert” in some capacity. It likely wouldn’t have been sold in stores and it likely would have been a limited production run of maybe 3,000-5,000 copies to appeal to those dyed-in-the-wool fans who love Elvis no matter what.

I think the plan was after the release of the deluxe editions of the “’68 Comeback” and the “Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite” DVD, you would have seen an “Elvis In Concert” deluxe edition. This likely would have meant a tasteful re-edit of the original show. I think we would have gotten a good majority of the outtakes as well. But like I said, Todd passed away, and this project seemed to stall.

EIN: You have also collaborated with Paul Lichter on a number of recent titles (e.g. "Viva Las Vegas"; "Elvis and Nancy Sinatra on the Speedway"; "Rock-Sex-n-Roll"). Are there any other Tunzi/Lichter projects in the works?

JAT: I’ve been willing to work with anybody, whether it’s Ernst and Roger, Sony, Paul Lichter, Warner Brothers, EPE, Joe Pirzada and MRS, you name it.

I do plan on working more with Paul Lichter. He has a massive photo archives. As time draws nearer, you will hear more about what Paul and I have planned.

EIN: For a long time your books were released in softcover. In recent years you have been releasing them with hardcovers. Why the change and has it impacted on sales?

JAT: I wasn’t influenced by what others were doing. We’ve tried to stay within our budget. I think what really matters in the publishing is what is on the pages, not whether or not it’s in soft cover or hardback. Sometimes getting too caught up in what I’d call the bells and whistles will ultimately price yourself out of sales. I also think we have a great team of people who have worked on our product.

EIN: What about the argument that hardcover books are more durable.  Fans like to look through photo books on a regular basis and in softcover format they can quickly become dog eared. 

JAT: Whether it's hardcover or softcover, both, if properly printed and assembled, can hold up remarkably well. I don't think it's necessarily an issue of hardcover versus softcover. For example, Ernst's hardcover release of "A Life In Music" practically had the pages falling out after minimal wear. I think "Elvis Sessions III" has been as durable, if not more. Some publishers will swear by hardback and others will recognize that both can be equally as durable. I also think it depends on how well fans protect and take care of their books. There's only so much a publisher can do to make a book durable.

EIN: Some fans complain that the price of photo books is too high. What is your response to this?

JAT: We’re now one of, if not the cheapest publisher. This applies both wholesale and retail. I know this was one of the biggest complaints against us for many years, but I think we have addressed many of our critics harshest critiques of our books. For many years it was black & white vs. color. Did that. Soft-cover vs. hard back. Did that. I think if you compare the costs of books between what we’ve put out recently and what FTD has put out or Erik Lorenzten or Joe Pirzada, I think we stack up pretty well as far as both wholesale and retail cost.

End of Part 1

The concluding part in Josesph Tunzi's engrossing interview will appear on EIN next week. In Part 2, Joseph discusses:

  • his favorite JAT releases
  • the biggest selling JAT book release
  • competition in the Elvis book space
  • how well Sony is doing at promoting Elvis
  • FTD
  • how well EPE is doing at promoting Elvis
  • his thoughts on an Elvis On Tour "Special Edition" DVD
  • JAT's "Hot Shots and Cool Clips" DVD series
  • the Tunzi "Maybelline" remix
  • The Pied Piper of Cleveland film!!! .........and a lot more!

Comment on this interview

Read Part 2 of Joseph Tunzi's interview

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Elvis Rules on Television
Graceland - The National Historic Landmark
How & where do I sell my Elvis collection?
Is Elvis the best selling artist?
Links to Elvis' family & friends
Links to other Elvis sites
Marty's Musings
Online Elvis Symposium
Parkes Elvis Festival 2009 (Australia)
Presley Law legal archives (Preslaw)
Presleys In The Press
Sale of EPE (Archives)
6th Annual Elvis Website Survey
Spotlight on The King
"Wikipedia" Elvis biography
Did You Miss?
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong - the most 'covered' Elvis album of all-time
Spotlight: Elvis Film Posters
FTD Review: An American Trilogy
Book Review: Elvis: A King in the Making
Interview: Vic Colonna - the Dangerous World of Bootlegging Elvis