Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Unconquered by J.D. Davis Book Tour and Giveaway

About The 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—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.

Interview with J.D. Davis

Q.  Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

A  This is a not a story of good and bad, or right and wrong. It is a deeply human story of aspirations and success and failure. It is a tale about family, music, and perseverance. The reader will be moved and inspired by the journeys of these three men, who came from nothing, rose to the top of their respective fields, and faced a variety of profound challenges along the way. My hope is that the reader will come away with a deeper appreciation of these three men and a fuller understanding of the many factors that shaped those unique individuals who came from the Depression and post-Depression era South.

Q.  What book are you reading now?

A.  Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson.

Q.  Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

A.  Not right now. While managing several hundred sources for my current book, my reading on other topics slowed in the last few years. Mostly what I read in the time I have are works by established authors.

Q.  Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

A.  In my thirties, I decided to expand my knowledge on topics outside of my profession and immediate set of interests. So I pursued a Master’s degree at Southern Methodist University where I found a great deal of support from professors in areas such as theology, history, philosophy, and the like. It helped me challenge myself to explore new pursuits, which ultimately led to writing my current book.

Q.  Do you see writing as a career?

A.  Writing for me is still an avocation, rather than a vocation. With continued development and the possible success of my first book, it is feasible that writing could become more of a career pursuit.

Q.  Do you see writing as a career?

A.  Writing for me is still an avocation, rather than a vocation. With continued development and the possible success of my first book, it is feasible that writing could become more of a career pursuit.

Q.  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

A.  The book is based entirely on real-life experiences.

Q.  What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

A.  I particularly enjoyed writing the chapters that take place in the 1970s and 1980s, when all three men were experiencing dramatic high and sobering lows. Those chapters create a compelling story for the reader,  whether he or she has been a fan of all or any of these men or not.

Q.  How did you come up with the title?

A.  Conquered Unconquered was a game the cousins played as young boys.In Conquered Unconquered, one of the boys would perform a daring stunt and the others would have to follow suit or be “conquered.” Whether it was jumping from boxcar to boxcar or the executing the latest death-defying feat on their bicycles, each of the cousins was always looking for a chance to come up with a new, amazing feat that would best the other two.

Through the course of their lives and careers, these three men have experienced numerous peaks and valleys. Nevertheless, the same dogged determination to never give up – to never be “conquered” – has kept each of them moving forward, meeting new challenges and scaling new heights. Now, all three have passed the three-quarters-of-a- century mark, and each remains truly unconquered.

Q.  What project are you working on now?

A.  Right now my focus is marketing and promoting Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilleyin anticipation of its release, on May 1st.

Q.  Will you have a new book coming out soon?

A.  Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley is set for release on May 1st.

Q.  Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

A.  I have a wide variety of interests and can imagine heading in a number of different directions. However, I would say there are several recurring themes of human interest, fascinating characters, rural life, and the American South which I find interesting and compelling.

Q. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

A. The primary criticism I encountered came from my lack of prior experience, which is to be expected and didn’t bother me. Many compliments from those close to the project touched on my instinctive feel for the subject matter, organizational skills, vast knowledge

About the book:

The new biography Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley tells the story of Ferriday, Louisiana's famous cousins. With three personal journeys set alongside important landmarks in pop-culture history, author J.D. Davis presents a unique tale of American music centered on the trials, tribulations, and achievements of three men who remain truly Unconquered.

Three cousins, inseparably bonded through music. Each became a star; their story would become a legend. J. D. Davis's enthralling new biography of famous cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, born within a twelve-month span in small-town Louisiana during the Great Depression, draws from exhaustive research and personal connections with friends and family. Davis recreates the irresistible and life-changing power of music that surrounded the cousins as boys and shaped their engagingly distinct paths to fame. With three personal journeys set alongside important landmarks in pop-culture history, Davis presents a unique tale of American music centered on the trials, tribulations, and achievements of three men who remain truly Unconquered.

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.

The Story:

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.

Ferriday, Louisiana

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).

Author Update - How are Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley related precisely?

One of the most intriguing facets of these three men is their kinship. In Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins of  Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley, their ties are explained. An easy-to-follow diagram is also provided to ensure that readers clearly understand their familial relationship, as it is not a simple one.

Leroy and Arilla Lewis had eleven children. Among them were Elmo, who was Jerry’s father; Ada, Jimmy’s paternal grandmother; and Irene, Mickey’s mother. Therefore:

•  Jerry and Jimmy are first cousins, once removed (Jerry’s father and Jimmy’s grandmother were siblings)

•  Jerry and Mickey are first cousins (Jerry’s father and Mickey’s mother were siblings)

•  Jimmy and Mickey are first cousins, once removed (Jimmy’s grandmother and Mickey’s mother were siblings)

In addition, Jerry’s mother, Mamie Herron Lewis, and Jimmy’s mother, Minnie Bell Herron Swaggart, were sisters – two of seven children of John William and Theresa Herron. Accordingly, Jerry and Jimmy are also first cousins on the Herron side of the family and double cousins overall.

The relationship between Jerry and Jimmy is particularly fascinating, made all the more compelling by the similarities of their DNA. As many people with whom we have spoken have declared, their stories, both separately and together, would seem unbelievable if written as fiction.

Excerpt - Jimmy Feels Conflicted Playing Secular Music

"Come on, Jerry, hurry up!" yelled Elmo as he stood waiting beside his old car. "We're gonna be late and we still need to pick up Jimmy Lee." Mamie was already ensconced in the passenger side of the front seat and Frankie Jean and Linda Gail were seated in the back. Jerry stumbled from the house, licking his fingers and rubbing his hair, trying to make it lay down in accordance with Mamie's wishes. He hopped into the back seat of the car, excited to head out.

They picked up Jimmy outside his little house just a few blocks west and started off on what proved to be a noisy ride. Jimmy, who was quieter than his cousins, listened to them banter while he and Jerry talked about who else might show up that night for the talent competition, who might stand the best chance of winning, and what songs each contestant might play.

Jerry played well that night, as usual, exhibiting once again the skills that already set him apart from other musicians, as his hands found and left the keys with lightning quickness. On this night, he banged and pounded and played with ferocity.

Then it was Jimmy's turn. As the more solemn and serious of the cousins ran his fingers up and down the piano, a strange feeling overtook him and allowed his hands to fly over the keys with increased ease. It was something he had felt before, but this time it was stronger than usual. As he played the notes of "Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-o-dee," he found himself able to execute runs on the piano that he'd never pulled off before. The crowd was cheering as Jimmy's hands moved across the keys, and he sensed he had been taken over by a force he could not explain.

For Jerry, such a happening would have been exhilerating, but for Jimmy it took on dark and fearsome undertones, for it seemed to him that he was being anointed by the devil. Then he finished and the crowd cheered, standing and clapping and whistling. Jimmy tried to smile in acknowledgement but he was terrified.

Excerpt - Young Mickey's Piano Practice

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!"

Excerpt – Jerry’s first public performance at the local Ford dealership

Early Performances

Before long, word got around Ferriday that young Jerry Lee Lewis, local mischief maker, had a way with a piano. Jerry was primed and eager to show off his skills to as many people as possible. His first opportunity came in 1949 when some local auto merchants staged a promotion in front of the Babin Ford dealership in the center of town and hired a band to play there.

The band quickly drew a crowd and in that crowd were Jerry and Elmo. Seeing them, the owner of the dealership thought it might be nice to give young Jerry Lee Lewis an opportunity to play .

Jerry climbed up onto the back of a pickup bed and sat down at the piano. He gazed out at a sea of familiar faces. Now, he thought, it was his time to show them how a piano is meant to to be played. He poised his hands over the keys, and grinned. Then he slammed both hands down on the keys as he beat out the sounds of “Hadacol Boogie” and “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee,” a song that Old Sam played frequently. His left hand pounded out the rhythm while his right hand floated all over the keys, adding trills and touches to these familiar tunes all the while stunning the audience and giving a first, tantalizing vision of what could be. The admiring upturned faces were a tonic to him, teaching him in a matter of minutes how his music could capture people. He finished to a burst of applause that he answered with a sly, knowing grin. Then a hat was passed, and as he and Elmo drove away, he counted out thirteen dollars, each nickel and quarter bolstering his nascent sense that playing piano was his calling .

Visit the Unconquered website to purchase the book and enter the giveaway!

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