Country music’s list of living legends over 80-years-old includes Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and, less obviously, Stonewall Jackson, a star from before the surviving Highwaymen’s time in the spotlight.
It’s easy to assume that Stonewall Jackson is a stage name, chosen to honor the Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Yet he was legally named Stonewall Jackson upon his Nov. 6, 1932 birth in Tabor City, North Carolina. He maintained his regionally relevant name during his South Georgia upbringing.
Jackson’s first big break in Nashville came in the mid-’50s when his demo tape landed on the desk of Acuff-Rose president Wesley Rose. Soon after, he became the first Grand Ole Opry member without a recording contract and toured with his honky-tonk mentor Ernest Tubb before landing a deal with Columbia Records in 1958.
Over a Decade of Hits
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He wasted no time cracking the country charts, beginning with the George Jones-written top 10 hit “Life to Go” in 1958. The next year, the more pop-friendly “Waterloo” became his signature song. From there, Jackson was one of the lonesome voices of honky-tonk in Hank Williams‘ wake, putting him in the same class as Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Ray Price and others.
His 35 top 40 country hits between 1958 and 1971 range from the “teenage tragedy” car wreck tale “B.J. the D.J.” (1964) to a countrified take on the Lobo hit “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” (1971). Beyond those novelty songs, Jackson kept the old-time sound relevant with additional greatest hits cuts “Smoke Along the Track” (1958), “Why I’m Walkin'” (1960), “A Wound Time Can’t Erase” (1962), “Don’t Be angry” (1964), “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water” (1965), “Stamp Out Loneliness” (1967) and “Herman Schwartz” (1973).
Old-Time Thought in a New Musical Landscape
He also addressed a timely issue in 1966 with “The Minute Men (Are Turning in Their Graves).” It allowed the Navy veteran to revisit times in American history when those pesky war protesters might’ve caused some real damage. While Glen Campbell’s “Galveston” and other hits in the coming years spoke up for the young men making the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam, Jackson’s sentiment was completely pro-government.
In all, he’s a classy representative of the days of smooth-voiced, sharp-dressed country singers who helped position what was once dismissed as “hillbilly” music as a commodity that would move uptown.