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.
Author 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.
Q: What inspired you to write Unconquered?
After reading extensively about these men, visiting their hometown, and getting to know their family members, I realized there was a fascinating story to be told. While much had been written about them – particularly about Jerry Lee Lewis – I found, to my surprise, that no one had ever integrated their three lives together. The way their stories interlock really is the compelling story, in my opinion, and I feel privileged to have been able to tell it.
Q: How old were you when you first became aware of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley?
As a child, I heard Jerry and Mickey on country music radio stations (Jerry’s airplay by that time had transitioned largely into country music, from rock ‘n’ roll). Their singing was great but it was their piano playing that really drew me in. My father watched Jimmy preach and play on television and I remember hearing Jimmy’s music every Sunday morning as I sauntered in and out of the living room.
Q: When did you first become aware of their incredible story and the fact that they were blood cousins who grew up together in the Deep South?
Most writings on any of the three touch on their family relationship – though they do so briefly as the focus is always on just one of the cousins.
So I was aware early on that they were related. However, over the years it struck me that each of their stories becomes more interesting when you consider their lives collectively. I thought it was important to write about the bonds between them: their similar upbringing, the influences they shared, their disparate responses to the world around them. These things explain their lifelong ties to each other and the separate paths they ultimately took.
For instance, when Jerry Lee became successful in 1956, Jimmy and Mickey were squeezing out a living performing grueling manual labor. While further exposing their own struggles, it also inspired them to find their own paths to success. To fully understand each man one needs to consider their relationships to one another.