The Killer, the Preacher, and the Cowboy

J. D. Davis speak the story of three cousins indigenous Ferriday that hit the big time.

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Growing up in Quitman, a small town in the piney woods of northeast Texas, author J. D. Davis was exposed beforehand to the renowned trio from north Louisiana—cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and also Mickey Gilley.

Lewis and Swaggart are double first cousins. Lewis and also Gilley are first cousins. Gilley and also Swaggart are first cousins once removed. The guys are connected through maternal and also paternal lines the Davis details in his 2012 book Unconquered: The Saga that Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and also Mickey Gilley.

Lewis, known as “The Killer” for his wild method with a piano, was a substantial hit in the fifties with such rock & roll classics as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Gilley to be a country-music singer finest known for opened “the world’s biggest honky-tonk” in Pasadena, Texas—the design for the dance hall in metropolitan Cowboy. And Swaggart obtained fame as a televangelist—and infamy for his autumn from grace because that allegedly consorting v prostitutes.

How the began: Listening come Jerry Lee Lewis in the seventies

“I’ve to be gathering information since I was a kid,” Davis explains about his study on the three cousins. “I observed Urban Cowboy and the Jerry Lee biopic Great Balls the Fire. In 2009, i really started reading, and also I went to Ferriday. That opened my eyes. A lot has actually been written, yet the most compelling story to me is the reality that they are cousins who thrived up very close. It is what wraps their lives together.”

As a child in the seventies, Davis first heard Lewis and also Gilley on nation radio. (Lewis’s absent career had nosedived after that married his thirteen-year-old cousin in 1957, as soon as he was twenty-two. Pan shunned him, radio stations reduce him, and he struggled for years to restore his stature. At some point he turn to nation music.) Gilley released together hits together “Room full of Roses” and "Don"t the girls All get Prettier at Closing Time.”

“Their singing was great but that was your piano playing that really attracted me in,” states Davis. I remember listening Jimmy’s music every Sunday morning. The did one hour-long show—preaching, playing piano, and also singing gospel songs.”

As a teenager, Davis came to be a large fan the Lewis. He approximates he has actually been to much more than fifty of his concerts—the first of which was at an outdoor music festival in Austin in the early 1990s, once Davis to be a college student at the university of Texas. “I to be absolutely puffy away,” the recalls. “He to be amazing. He was in his late fifties, but when he placed his hand on those tricks it was favor he metamorphosed into a man two decades younger.”

Fascinated through the three guys from Concordia Parish who had accomplished amazing success, after completing a master’s level in liberal researches at southerly Methodist college in 2009, Davis decided to write a book.

Researching the Lewis, Swaggart, and Gilley family members

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Born in Ferriday in 1935 and also ’36 throughout the an excellent Depression, the cousins grew up poor, yet each showed musical talent at an early age. They were elevated in the Pentecostal church, and each had close relationships v their mothers.

None that the three men maintains a residence there now, but in his research, Davis found plenty of family members in Ferriday. He talked to Gilley’s sisters Edna, who died in 2012 at eighty-seven. He likewise interviewed Lewis’s sister Linda Gail and also Frankie Jean. “I developed a nice close friendship with Frankie Jean, that is a personality herself,” the says. “They had a ton the information, not just on Jerry yet on the various other two cousins.”

He invested three years on the book, working nights and weekends while holding down his work job and raising 3 daughters. He made numerous research trips come Ferriday and also traveled to Memphis; Nashville; Baton Rouge; Houston; Branson, Missouri; and also Cleveland, Tennessee.

He conducted about one hundreds interviews, taping many of them. “There are so plenty of interesting people in this family,” that says. “I’ve accumulated hundreds of household photos.

Ferriday: A music Haven

Davis describes Ferriday as “the perfect harmonic convergence the blues, gospel, and also country. It was on the chitlin circuit. Will Haynie owned a society there referred to as Haynie’s large House. He was black and also grew up dust poor, but he became successful.

“Jerry would sneak in the ago and listen to the blues. Periodically Jimmy would certainly go, too. Haynie allowed them to come in however told them no to permit their well-off uncle know or he’d get in trouble.

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“Everybody played there—eighteen-year-old B. B. King, Irma Thomas, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. The was one of the couple of places in the south where they can play and also have a location to stay, because Haynie own a hotel in the back. People would come native Monroe, Alexandria, Shreveport. It was one of the most essential blues joints in the South. It melted down in the Sixties.”

How castle Made the Big: Conquered and also Unconquered

Lewis to be the an initial cousin to do it huge with his breakout fight “Crazy Arms” in 1956. Meanwhile, Swaggart and also Gilley, who both gained married as teenagers, to be sweating the end a living—Swaggart together a dragline swamper and also street preacher in Ferriday and also Gilley together a pipe layer in Houston.

“When Jerry Lee became successful, Jimmy and also Mickey were performing grueling hand-operated labor,” states Davis. “That influenced them to discover their very own paths come success.” as he delved into their story, Davis to be intrigued through “Conquered and Unconquered,” a video game of derring-do the cousins played. “One of lock would do a stunt and the rather would need to do it, too, or it is in ‘conquered,’” says Davis. “They jumped from boxcar come boxcar or executed death-defying accomplishments on their bicycles. Lock were always looking because that a new, impressive feat the would best the other two.”

Meeting Mickey Gilley

It to be Gilley that told Davis around the game. The author was in the audience in Baton Rouge last may when Louisiana publicly Broadcasting honored Gilley as a Louisiana Legend. Before the event, the musician chatted around the book.

“He referred to as me up because that a date and I told him ns didn’t prefer guys,” joked Gilley, seventy-six, who calls the author “Jim.”

“I think there’ll it is in a most interest in the book,” Gilley said. “The three of us space the key. What a situation. Three boys—I’m the youngest and the best looking. Every one of us go in different directions, and all of us had success. You think around what taken place with the three of us, that phenomenal—almost unbelievable.

“Jim traction some things out the me that i hadn’t thought around in years,” said Gilley. “I said him story of us farming up, about how as kids we had a game dubbed ‘Conquered and Unconquered’: ‘I dare you to perform that.’ we could’ve eliminated ourselves.”

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Gilley, who currently owns a theater in Branson, was the just cousin who cooperated v Davis top top the book. “Jerry Lee and also Jimmy ,” the noted. “It irritates me. Below we room in the twilight years of our life and our careers and also we can’t leave a legacy. I’d choose to watch a film done around us before I die.”

Davis has currently fielded calls. “There’s been some initial attention from the movie industry,” the says. “I think the story is destined to it is in a movie at some point.”

But because that now, he’s enjoying an excellent press because that a book he hopes will it is in the critical biography of three cousins who defied the odds. “I’m a aboriginal Texan, however I just discover Louisiana fascinating,” he confesses.

“Their story is interesting and compelling ~ above so countless levels,” that says. “The Depression era in the South, music in the twenty century, the duality of great and evil, the conflict in between music and religion. That a really fascinating story top top so numerous levels. That that human story the compelled me to compose the book.”