Based on his love of music, American rural life, and history, J.D. Davis has spent several years earnestly researching Louisiana’s famous piano-playing cousins, men about whom he has read and to whom he has listened since childhood.
A fan first and foremost, Davis’s expertise on these three famous cousins has continued to grow. He has devoted considerable time, energy, and resources to writing a book that tells the remarkable story of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley.
In 1935 and early 1936, three cousins were born into tight-knit families in Ferriday, Louisiana. Rare piano talent, strong parental relationships, the Pentecostal church, family struggle, and a variety of musical influences worked together to produce men who changed twentieth-century music and culture. The individual stories of these three cousins illustrate their varied paths from small-town America to a world stage. Woven together, the collective story becomes even more compelling and amazing.
UNCONQUERED is a story so unlikely that it would not be believable if written as fiction. It tells of rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and country music star Mickey Gilley. These very different men, raised in the same time and place, with similar talents, were fated for entirely different destinies even as their lives would always be profoundly intertwined. Born into poverty, each man, in his own way, would become an iconic figure blessed with the ability to thrill and inspire.
The story's touchstones of music, perseverance, and faith could wield such force only in the American South. There, in the Louisiana lowlands’ Concordia Parish, their story began in the midst of the Great Depression.
Nestled away in Concordia Parish, just a few miles west of the Mississippi River, lies the little town of Ferriday. Only slightly over a century old and with only a few thousand people in the immediate area, it has surprisingly spawned several well-known personalities, including journalist Howard K. Smith, socialite Ann Boyar Warner, and musician Peewee Whitaker, among others.
It is also, most notably, the hometown of famous cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, the subjects of UNCONQUERED.
Ferriday's citizens are warm and generous, similar to those in most American small towns. Visitors are encouraged to stop by the state-supported Delta Music Museum, which honors the three cousins and other iconic music figures of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta region, including Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, and Conway Twitty, among others. In addition, if one is able to schedule a visit or drop in at the right time, he or she might want to visit the Lewis House Museum (operated by Jerry Lee Lewis's sister, Frankie Jean, and her family).
J.D. Davis was raised in Quitman, Texas, a quiet community in the northeast part of the state. Having grown up in a small town in the rural South—similar in many ways to the cousins’ hometown of Ferriday, Louisiana—with many similar influences as the cousins, he has meaningful insight into these three men.
Davis attended the University of Texas on a full academic scholarship, received a B.A. with highest honors in economics, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He later received a master’s degree from SMU.
As a successful businessman, Davis achieved the highest credentials as an actuary and became a principal in a large firm while still in his twenties. He currently manages an employee benefits consulting practice that covers the southern region of the United States, with offices in four cities.
Davis remembers his father watching Jimmy Swaggart on television and being intrigued by the evangelist's magnificent piano talent. As a teenager, Davis became a huge fan of Jerry Lee Lewis. He first attended one of Lewis’s live performances as a college student and was awe-struck to see this man put on a breathtaking performance. Davis grew up listening to country music of the seventies and eighties, when Mickey Gilley was consistently producing number one country hits. He became fascinated by the ways these three very different cousins achieved and dealt with eventual success and has been a dedicated fan for years.
Davis has worked with a talented team of many. His editors included Elizabeth Kaye, an award winning journalist who has often written about southern music and southern preachers. As a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, she interviewed Sam Phillips and gathered firsthand experience of Jerry Lee Lewis when covering sessions at which he played with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. As a contributing editor to John Kennedy’s George magazine, Kaye wrote extensively about Billy Graham and his son Franklin, traveled on several missionary trips with Franklin, and worked with ABC’s 20/20 to produce and write a major Billy Graham profile.
The Mississippi River bridge between Vidalia, La and Natchez, Ms, facing north from Vidalia
Sign entering Ferriday, identifying its famous cousins and many others
The former Assembly of God church at the corner of northwest corner of Eighth and Texas
sign paying tribute to Will Haney and Haney's Big House
The bridge at night, as viewed from the Vidalia Convention Center
A look between the two spans, from Vidalia
The Arcade Theater in downtown Ferriday, restored in recent years
Looking down on the River from Natchez