The boy band was made up of four cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, Mikey Gilley and David Beatty who were on the cutting edge of combining country, gospel and R&B music into the first formula for rock ‘n’ roll.
Three of the four boys became nationwide celebrities while one, David Beatty, took the road less traveled as a small-town preacher — obscure to the world of the rich and famous.
Beatty, pastor of Pine Hill Church of God in McDonald, said he has never forgotten or regretted his decision to become the first of the four boys to “get saved,” then go to Lee College (Lee University) in Cleveland and later settle down in small town America.
Still, the 75-year-old pastor said he shares a lot of fond memories with his famous cousins whose mothers were all sisters.
“They lived in Ferriday (La.) and I lived on a farm out in the country in Louisiana,” said Beatty. “We moved to Ferriday with them when I was 10. Jerry and Jimmy was already playing the piano.
“I started playing the guitar. Then Mickey also started playing the guitar. Jerry, Jimmy and I were all born in 1935. Mickey was born in 1936. We were all about 12 years old at the time.”
Beatty said Mickey played rhythm guitar in the band while he played electric guitar.
“Jimmy played the bass end of the piano and Jerry played the treble end of the piano. We played at church, primarily, then we got invited to play at political events,” he said.
The charismatic teens touched a nerve with music lovers unlike anything anyone was familiar with, and their popularity at church and political rallies was unmistakable. Jerry, Jimmy, David and Mickey were around the age of 14 when they decided to take their music to a new level.
“In 1949 we entered a talent contest held at the gymnasium/auditorium at Ferriday High School. We won hands down,” said Beatty with a laugh. “Our song was Wine, Wine, ‘Drink’in Wine — Spo-Dee-O-Dee.’ That was a real song back then. It took off pretty good in the late 40s, early 50s.”
According to Beatty, there were no microphones in the packed auditorium but the energetic atmosphere was ripe for what he calls “boogie-woogie.”
“We use to do the gospel boogie at church — they called it ‘everybody is going to have religion and glory,’ but we called it ‘the gospel boogie,’ said Beatty. “It was a kind of boogie-woogie type. And we switched it over to the ‘Wine, Wine’ beat.
“In the turnaround Jerry was really hammering on the treble between the verses and the chorus. Then I had the electric guitar and it was louder. And all the girls started screaming! We had never seen anything like it.”
Everyone was moving and shaking, dancing and screaming to a whole new sound of music. No one knew exactly how to describe it, except they wanted more, according to Beatty.
“We had seen people get happy at church but not in a secular environment. It was very, very exciting. Jerry kept saying ‘There’s something about our music that’s really electrifying!’”
The charismatic teens had started something in Farriday which changed the history of that small community and made it a tourist attraction half a century later. It was clear in 1949 that music was in their blood and theirs was a talent that could shake the music world.
But Beatty said there were other interests the boys had to lay to rest before any of their careers took center stage as adults. Influenced primarily by Mickey’s mother, Irene, whom he called “aunt Rennie” as well as the Assembly of God church they attended, Beatty said he made a life-changing decision a year later in June.
“At 15 years old I got saved, joined the church and quit playing that ‘bad’ music,” Beatty said with a bit of a laugh. “Jerry got married at 16, Mickey got married at 16 and Jimmy waited to the ripe old age of 17. I decided I wanted to finish high school and I did.
“Then I decided I was going to be in the ministry. I also wanted to go to college. So I came to Lee College in September 1955. At that time Jerry Lee was my traveling mate and music man for my revivals. We had four revivals in 1955. He played the music, we sung together and I did the preaching.”
“Jimmy Swaggart and I both were preaching at age 19 in 1954, but I wanted to go to college first and get some training. When I came to Lee College I started my studies and then I started conducting revivals here in Tennessee while in college. Jimmy was married and he couldn’t afford to go to college.”
While he was at Lee, Beatty met the woman who would become his wife, Jo Ann, also a Lee student. The couple married in December 1959.
“I graduated from Lee College in May, evangelized until December and we got married later that month. Two weeks later Jo Ann and I were full-time evangelists preaching revivals in Chattanooga, Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Griffin, Ga.”
For more than half a century the couple served in their ministry from parts of Tennessee to Louisiana, even coming out of retirement to fill in as pastor at Pine Hill Church of God in McDonald for nearly 10 years now.
Although no one in Ferriday had ever heard anything as electrifying as their only high school performance together in 1949, Jerry Lee Lewis went on to become a rock ‘n’ roll legend, along with the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and other stars in the 1950s.
In 1957, Lewis released, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” It spent 23 weeks on the country charts, reaching No. 1, and hit No. 3 on the pop charts. His follow-up release, “Great Balls of Fire,” also went No. 1.
Evangelist Jimmy Swaggert went from preaching on the streets, in tents and in country churches to filling major auditoriums and civic arenas around the world. He is said to be most at home either behind the pulpit or behind the piano to this day. It is estimated he has sold more than 13 million albums worldwide. Swaggart also built the 7,200-seat Family Worship Center on the 270-acre site of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in Baton Rouge, La., where he remains a popular singer and televangelist.
Mickey Gilley left town at age 17, worked bars in Houston and recorded “Tell Me Why” in 1953. In 1971, he opened Gilley’s nightclub, considered the most famous country night club in the world, and continued to record music, putting out 17 no. 1 hits.
Gilley hit it big in 1974 with “Room Full of Roses” which hit the top of the country charts and is ranked among the best country music songs of all time. Gilley’s club was so successful that it was extended to hold 3,500 customers, the entire population of Ferriday.
When the city of Ferriday honored the celebrity trio in 2002, Beatty was among the observers to celebrate the accomplishments of his famous cousins.
“When I went to the Hall of Fame induction in Louisiana in Ferriday — they took the old post office and converted it to a museum for Jerry Lee, Jimmy Lee and Mickey,” Beatty said. “The State set up a tourist attraction there.
“They put a gold star in the concrete and fixed it all up. One of the guys who knew me came and asked me, ‘Where is your gold star? What happened to you?’ I said, ‘Man, what are you talking about? I got my star in 1950 when the Lord wrote my name down in the Lamb’s book of life — put my star right on glory avenue and it’s been there ever since.”
Although each of his celebrity cousins has seen their rise to fame and fortune, Beatty was also there to see their fall from grace played out before the nation. Never did he forsake his cousins in their hour of need.
“When you look back at all that Mickey, Jerry and Jimmy have gone through — they’ve had enough heartache for a bunch of lifetimes,” Beatty said. “I haven’t had the fame and the fortune, but I’ve had the joy of being who I am in Christ. I’m happy that I was able to grow up with these guys and I’m proud of their achievements. But the Lord has been awfully good to me.”
With less drama in his personal life, less media attention and far less temptations, Beatty said he is truly content with all he has done in his life.
Refusing to be judgmental, the Cleveland resident remains somewhat sentimental toward the memory of four young boys who were torn between music and ministry but were never forsaken by one other.
Although Beatty has not seen Jerry Lee Lewis in 13 years, he said Jerry has been sending him checks since 1995, and he is grateful for Jerry’s “offerings.” From 2002 to 2006, Beatty was the morning speaker at several camp meetings at Jimmy Swaggart’s Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Beatty recently spoke with Mickey Gilley who is paralyzed from the neck down due to a near-fatal fall July 9, 2009. He said he encouraged the country music star to put his trust in the Lord.
Through it all, Beatty said he loves his cousins, prays for them and still enjoys their music. But the small town preacher added that he never once regretted his decision to solely pursue his ministry over music.
“I have had a wonderful, wonderful life. I’m healthy, I’m happy and so is my wife. We’ve really been blessed. I just don’t see how it could be any better,” he said with a smile.