Ward had visited Memphis for the 10th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, and was inspired to write a tribute to The King. Together he and Tyson composed Black Velvet, an unforgettable example of songwriting at its very best.
Black Velvet expertly evokes Elvis fandom at its peak. Myles’s voice dominates the recording, her vocals at times raw and gritty, at others softly prayerful. Tyson remembered the enthusiasm they brought to the recording studio every night: “We would always end up laughing half the night away. And we’d get better vocals. I would cycle miles to get there and pedal home at three in the morning.”
Black Velvet was written specifically for Myles, who was in a relationship with Ward. Her demo earned her a contract with Atlantic Records. Subsequent to her release, Robin Lee recorded an almost identical country version, also for Atlantic.
But it was Myles’s version that took the world by storm with its languid, steamy atmosphere and simmering passion. Her single (Atlantic 78-88387-P) was released in July 1989 in Canada, and in December in the U.S., quickly garnering SOCAN Pop/Rock Music awards and a BMI Millionaire award.
Myles’s soulful Black Velvet rapidly became one of the most-requested songs on radio. As Tyson told FYI Music News: “I was settled in L.A. and got a phone call Black Velvet was climbing the Billboard charts, and this got exciting for me because it was all new to me….. I finally got a phone call from one of the A&R guys at Atlantic Records in New York City …. ‘Congratulations, you are number one, number one.’ A voice inside said, ‘Pay attention to this moment; it may never come again.’”
Ward told VJ Erica Ehm that, considering how many factors must fall into place in order to have a No. 1 hit, “We were lucky. It all locked into place for us on that particular song….Alannah was my biggest champion.… every single day she would say to me, ‘You're going to write me a hit song. I know it.’”
The sky proved to be the limit for sales of Myles’s self-titled album. By 1990 it earned nine times platinum, later reaching diamond status indicating sales over 1 million in Canada – unheard of for a debut album by a Canadian.
Black Velvet swept the 1990 Junos, winning enough gleaming hardware to fill a wheelbarrow: single of the year, most promising female vocalist, album of the year, plus composer of the year for Tyson and Ward. The single went top 10 on RPM in Canada in 1990 and was No. 10 of the top Cancon tracks of 1964 - 1996.
Black Velvet also swept the U.S. charts, reaching No. 1 on the Cashbox chart and Billboard’s Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock charts in early 1990, and topping charts in Scandinavia and beyond.
Myles’s recording went on to win the 1990 Grammy award for best female rock vocal performance, topping heavyweight nominees like Janet Jackson and Tina Turner. Black Velvet was declared a SOCAN Classic in 2004.
The song has been covered by “American Idol” contestants Crystal Bowersox (bubbling under the Hot 100), and Kelly Clarkson, as well as by Melissa Etheridge, Cali Tucker, Juno winner Meghan Patrick, and others.
Songwriter-producer David Tyson grew up in Etobicoke, Ontario. He has written for artists like Celine Dion and Hall & Oates, has produced Eddie Schwartz, Amanda Marshall, Heather Rankin and other stars, and has won multiple Juno awards.
Songwriter, recording artist and broadcaster Christopher Ward is from Toronto. Canada’s first VJ, he was a veteran of the Second City Touring Company and appeared in two of the “Austin Powers” films. As a successful songwriter he has written for top artists like The Backstreet Boys, Colin James, Wynonna Judd, Anne Murray, Amanda Marshall, Peter Cetera and Diana Ross, as well as for television.