The Killer, the Preacher, and the Cowboy: J. D. Davis speak the story of 3 cousins indigenous Ferriday that hit the huge time.

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Growing up in Quitman, a small town in the piney woods that northeast Texas, J. D. Davis to be exposed early on to the well known trio from north Louisiana—cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and also Mickey Gilley.

Lewis, recognized as “The Killer” for his wild way with a piano, was a substantial hit in the Fifties through such rock & roll standards as “Great Balls that Fire” and also “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Swaggart acquired fame as a televangelist—and infamy for his autumn from grace because that allegedly consorting v prostitutes. Gilley to be a country-music singer ideal known for opened “the world’s best honky-tonk” in Pasadena, Texas—the model for the dance hall in urban Cowboy.

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As a kid in the Seventies, Davis heard Lewis and also Gilley on country radio. (Lewis’s rock career had actually nosedived after the married his thirteen-year-old cousin in 1957, as soon as he was twenty-two. Pan shunned him, radio stations dropped him, and he struggled because that years to regain his stature. Eventually he turn to country music.) Gilley released together hits as “Room complete of Roses” and "Don"t the girl All acquire Prettier in ~ Closing Time.”

“Their singing was good but the was their piano playing that really attracted me in,” says Davis, who freshly published the book Unconquered: The Saga that Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley. “I remember hear Jimmy’s music every Sunday morning. That did one hour-long show—preaching, playing piano, and also singing gospel songs.”

“Jerry and also Jimmy are two guys with the very same DNA,” states Davis. “They’re like opposite sides of the exact same coin.” (Lewis and Swaggart are twin first cousins. Lewis and also Gilley are very first cousins. Gilley and Swaggart are first cousins when removed. The guys are related through maternal and paternal lines that Davis details in his book.)

As a teenager, Davis ended up being a large fan of Lewis. He approximates he has actually been to an ext than fifty the his concerts. He very first saw Lewis live in ~ an the end music festival in Austin in the beforehand 1990s, when Davis was a college college student at the college of Texas.

“I to be absolutely swollen away,” that recalls. “He was amazing. He remained in his late fifties, yet when he put his hand on those tricks it was choose he metamorphosed right into a man two decades younger.”

Davis i graduated from UT through a level in finance. In his twenties, he was made companion at an actuarial firm where he now manages four offices. Year later, he went back to school.

He earn a master’s degree in liberal studies at southerly Methodist university in 2009. Fascinated by the three males from Concordia Parish that had accomplished amazing success, he decided to write a book.

“I’ve been gathering information due to the fact that I to be a kid,” that says. “I observed Urban Cowboy and the Jerry Lee biopic Great Balls of Fire. In 2009, ns really started reading, and also I went to Ferriday. That opened my eyes. A lot has been written, yet the many compelling story come me is the reality that they space cousins who thrived up very close. That’s what wraps their lives together.”

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Born in Ferriday in 1935 and ’36 during the good Depression, the cousins flourished up poor, but all exhibited musical talent at an early age. Castle were increased in the Pentecostal church, and all had close relationships with their mothers.

None that the three males maintains a residence there now, yet Davis discovered plenty of family members in Ferriday. He speak to Gilley’s sister Edna, who passed away last month at eighty-seven. He likewise interviewed Lewis’s sister Linda Gail and Frankie Jean. “I developed a pretty close friendship with Frankie Jean, that is a character herself,” the says. “They had actually a ton of information, not only on Jerry but on the various other two cousins.”

He spent three year on the book, working nights and weekends while holding under his day job and raising three daughters. The made numerous research trips to Ferriday and likewise traveled come Memphis; Nashville; Baton Rouge; Houston; Branson, Missouri; and also Cleveland, Tennessee.

He conducted around one hundreds interviews, taping many of them. “There space so many interesting world in this family,” he says. “I’ve gathered hundreds of household photos.

Davis describes Ferriday as “the perfect harmonic convergence the blues, gospel, and also country. It to be on the chitlin circuit. Will certainly Haynie own a club there dubbed Haynie’s big House. He was black and 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 enabled them come come in but told them not to let their rich uncle understand or he’d acquire in trouble.

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“Everybody play there—eighteen-year-old B. B. King, Irma Thomas, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. It was among the couple of places in the southern where they could play and also have a place to stay, since Haynie owned a hotel in the back. Human being would come indigenous Monroe, Alexandria, Shreveport. The was one of the most important blues joints in the South. It shed down in the Sixties.”

Lewis to be the very first cousin to make it huge with his breakout fight “Crazy Arms” in 1956. Meanwhile, Swaggart and Gilley, that both got married as teenagers, were sweating the end a living—Swaggart as 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 Mickey were performing grueling hands-on labor,” claims Davis. “That inspired them to discover their own paths come success.” together he delved into their story, Davis to be intrigued by “Conquered and Unconquered,” a video game of derring-do the cousins played. “One of lock would carry out a stunt and the others would have to do it, too, or it is in ‘conquered,’” states Davis. “They jumped native boxcar come boxcar or enforcement death-defying feats on their bicycles. Lock were always looking because that a new, impressive feat that would best the other two.”

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

“He dubbed me up because that a date and I said him ns didn’t choose guys,” joked Gilley, seventy-six, that calls the writer “Jim.”

“I think there’ll be a most interest in the book,” Gilley said. “The three of us are the key. What a situation. Three boys—I’m the youngest and also the ideal looking. All of us went in separate directions, and every one of us had actually success. Girlfriend think around what occurred with the 3 of us, it’s phenomenal—almost unbelievable.

“Jim traction some points out that me that ns hadn’t thought around in years,” said Gilley. “I said him stories of us farming up, around how as children we had actually a game dubbed ‘Conquered and Unconquered’: ‘I challenge you to do that.’ us could’ve eliminated ourselves.”

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Gilley, who currently owns a theatre in Branson, to be the just cousin who cooperated through Davis ~ above the book. “Jerry Lee and Jimmy ,” he noted. “It irritates me. Here we space in the twilight year of ours life and also our careers and also we can’t leaving a legacy. I’d prefer to view a film done around us prior to I die.”

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

But because that now, he is enjoying good press because that a publication he wishes will it is in the critical biography of 3 cousins that defied the odds. “I’m a aboriginal Texan, but I just find Louisiana fascinating,” the confesses.

“Their story is interesting and compelling on so countless levels,” the says. “The Depression era in the South, music in the twentieth century, the duality of good and evil, the conflict between music and religion. It’s a really fascinating story top top so countless levels. That that human story the compelled me to write the book.”