In his youth, Mickey wrestled with practicing the gospel music that so pleased his mother versus pounding out the boogie-woogie tunes that gave him such exhileration to play. This excerpt from Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley illustrates Mickey's conflict during a typical piano practice.
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One July afternoon, Mickey was playing songs from the little brown church hymnal on the piano his mama had recently bought for him. Irene didn't want him playing "worldly music," and so when she was home, Mickey appeased her by diligently playing hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "The Old Rugged Cross."
Irene could hear the sounds coming from the other room. While he still hit wrong notes, they were fewer and further between. To Irene, the music was perfect. As Mickey pounded out the melody of "Standing on the Promises," she could imagine him at the front of the church someday, playing piano, preaching the gospel, and pursuing the noble calling of ministering to his own church flock
"Mickey," Irene said, "I'm goin' over to your Aunt Ada's for a little bit. There are cold pork chops in the kitchen if you get hungry."
As soon as his mother was out of earshot, Mickey stopped playing hymns. Within seconds, he was testing out the hand movements of the boogie-woogie music he had heard Jerry playing at Uncle Elmo and Aunt Mamie's house. Smiling, elated, he concentrated on the disparate movements of his left and right hands. The music fascinated him. He figured that he probably had an hour—forty-five minutes just to be safe—until his mama returned and he'd have to play those hymns again.
"But, man," he'd recall many years later, as he smiled his cheek-to-cheek grin, "when she'd leave, the boogie-woogie would roll!"