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Singer Stonewall Jackson's Biggest Hit Featured Country Music's Best Military Metaphor

Obit Stonewall Jackson Country Singer
FILE - Grand Ole Opry singer Stonewall Jackson smiles in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 11, 2007. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Country singer Stonewall Jackson was a Navy veteran who spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard country music charts in 1959 with "Waterloo." The song crossed over to the pop charts and hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and even charted at #24 in the United Kingdom.

Jackson died on Dec. 4, 2021, at the age of 89 after a long battle with vascular dementia. His chart career was relatively short, but "Waterloo" is one of those hit songs that just never goes away.

Students of military history know that French Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte was attempting a comeback in 1815 when his army was defeated by the British and Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo. The man who thought he could conquer Europe lived out his life as a prisoner on the island of St. Helena.

The idea that a career-ending obstacle was "meeting your Waterloo" became a popular idea by the mid-19th century, so the idea had been kicking around for about a century before songwriters John D. Loudermilk and Marijohn Wilkin wrote their song. Loudermilk also wrote the hit songs "Tobacco Road" and "Indian Reservation." Wilkin's first husband was killed in World War II, and she went on to write "Long Black Veil" for Lefty Frizzell and "One Day at a Time," one of the most successful gospel songs of all time.

Loudermilk and Wilkin's song describes how three men "met their Waterloo." First up is Adam, the guy who ate the apple and ruined the good thing he had going with Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The second verse describes how Napoleon met his own personal Waterloo at the Battle of Waterloo. Is it still a metaphor when you're using it to describe the thing that the metaphor is actually talking about?

The final verse tells the story of Confederate soldier Tom Dooley, who was hanged for a murder he insisted that he did not commit. The story was immortalized in a folk song that became a #1 hit for the Kingston Trio in 1958. And yet, the metaphor is a little fuzzy here. The real-life Tom Dula was reportedly a bit of a heel, but getting arrested for a crime you didn't commit doesn't really match up with the "thing you wanted to do didn't turn out the way you expected" part of "meeting your Waterloo."

That obviously didn't matter much, since the song was a huge hit and has even managed to survive competition from ABBA's similarly successful 1970s song, "Waterloo," which tells the story of a woman who gives up resisting a romance in the face of overwhelming pursuit from a guy.

Unlike most guys called "Stonewall," Jackson's first name was not a nickname. Named after Civil War Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, his parents put the moniker on his birth certificate in Tabor City, N.C. After Jackson's father died when he was 2, his mother moved the family to Moultrie, Georgia, and young Stonewall traded his bike for a guitar when he was 10 years old.

He lied about his age to join the Army in 1948. When the service figured out his ruse, they sent him back home to Moultrie. The next year, he joined the Navy and served four years before heading back to South Georgia again.

Jackson moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1956 and his career took off quickly. He became the first artist to be invited to join the Grand Ole Opry before signing a recording contract and had his first big hit with "Life to Go," a song written by Marine Corps veteran George Jones.

The singer returned to #1 with the 1963 hit, "B.J. the D.J.," a tune from the then-popular genre of car-wreck death songs.

Jackson hit #8 in 1965 with "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water," a song that went on to become a country classic after it was covered by artists as diverse as Johnny Rivers, The Spencer Davis Group, Elvis Presley, George Thorogood & the Destroyers and Buck Owens.

Jackson struck a blow for senior citizens when he sued the Grand Ole Opry for age discrimination in 2006. His lawsuit claimed that general manager Pete Fisher said that he didn't "want any gray hairs on that stage or in the audience, and before I'm done, there won't be any," and he also allegedly told Jackson that he was "too old and too country."

The Opry settled in 2008, and Jackson returned to the Opry stage. His last public performance was at Jones' funeral in 2013.

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