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VOL. 38 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 21, 2014

Stonewall Jackson's little slice of heaven in heart of Brentwood

Singer happy to meet his Waterloo

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Stonewall Jackson stands on his front porch, with Lake Waterloo at the base of the hill.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

“Everybody has to meet his Waterloo,” sings honky-tonk hero Stonewall Jackson in his breakthrough No. 1 hit back in 1959.

Of course, that line, the entire song really, means everybody must meet his or her fate someday.

That isn’t necessarily a good thing – the song name-checks Napoleon, who, of course, met the fate, defeat, at Waterloo. But this 81-year-old can’t help but smile as he overlooks his 29 acres along Cloverland in Brentwood, complete with a nine-acre Lake Waterloo.

“I just love it here,” he says of the property that stands out because it’s undeveloped, one of the last large green plots of land as Brentwood – the upscale suburb of Nashville (which we all know is the IT-city) – which is slowly being consumed by condominiums, cluster developments and deluxe subdivisions.

This is land he’s owned for a half-century, and, while clearly it would make him wealthier if he sold it to make room for eight or nine lakefront McMansions, he’s got no such intention.

“I want to leave it to my family and they can make a park here,” he says, as he leans back on the couch in his living room, while Waffles and George occasionally bark, but mostly enjoy lying in the glow of the fireplace. “I don’t know what kind of dogs they are,” he says.

I’m here on this cold Lake Waterloo day (he calls the entire compound that name) to satisfy long-held curiosity. Whenever I drive through this swath of northern Williamson County – Cloverland becomes Church Street as it heads to downtown Brentwood to the west – freshly sprouted residential developments jolt me when I round the curves of this once pastoral roadway.

“When we first moved out here there were 12 cars a day came along that road,” says Stonewall, who is dressed, as is appropriate for a senior ambassador of country music, in glitter-punctuated black.

“I liked it better then. I’d get off the road and come here and it was quiet. Course, it’s not really that noisy now.”

The house is perched on a hill overlooking the lake and property that’s home to Stonewall and Juanita (“Marty Stuart always calls her ‘Mama Doll,’’’ he jokes of his old friend, on whose RFD Network show he’ll appear this winter. “He’s like a second son to us.”)

Their real son, “Turp” (Stonewall Jackson Jr.) lives in a stone house across Lake Waterloo.

Over the decades, whenever I’ve driven past the lake and property, I’ve marveled: How does Stonewall keep this oasis from being gobbled up by the encroaching landscape of near-anonymous, lushly appointed homes?

“I have a plan for it to stay in the family and have it turn into a park over time,” says Stonewall as he gazes across the lake to a vintage 1976 Eagle tour bus.

“I don’t go out in the bus anymore. Fly nowadays,” he says, noting he just has returned from a series of performances in Canada. The bus will stay as a feature of this park.

“You seen those guitars they got on the corners downtown? I want to get some of them out here, too. Maybe rides for the kids, eventually.”

The Lake Waterloo estate already is something of a Mecca for fans of Stonewall’s hard-edged, Hank Williams-style country.

“They like to get their pictures taken here,” the 55-year Grand Ole Opry member says of his fans. (Stonewall’s now-resolved battle with the Opry over classic country acts is regarded by the singer as “just a bump in the road.”)

Stonewall enjoys the fans who visit his property. “I like people,” says the guy who has been lifting hearts with country music and great gospel tunes for more than a half-century. “They can come here as long as they don’t fish.”

That’s for liability reasons. Stonewall relishes fishing here. Little Jimmy Dickens, Jerry Reed, Jim Ed Brown, Charlie Louvin and others have joined their pal in pulling large bass from the well-stocked lake.

Speculators may salivate over this prime acreage in Brentwood. And there have been times when folks have tried to buy it. Stonewall Jackson’s not selling.

“I’m just gonna have to let it be a tribute place,” he says. Having a Stonewall Jackson Park here “is the only way I’m going to get ahead of Jones.”

Jones is George, his late friend and the co-writer of Stonewall’s 1958 Top 40 prisoner’s lament, “Life to Go.”

“I wrote most of it, but George finished it. I gave him the writer’s credit. Sometimes a guy ought to ask his wife before giving things away like that.

“Old Jones bought an acre of ground at the funeral home on Thompson Lane (Woodlawn Cemetery) … He did that so people in the music business who don’t have a place; he’ll give them a place to be buried.”

Johnny Paycheck, an under-regarded classic country stylist (there’s a lot more to him than “Take This Job and Shove It”) was buried there long before Jones.

George’s spectacular monument at the cemetery is a major draw for tourists, people from all over the world who come to Nashville because they love guys like Stonewall, Jones, Cash, Eddy Arnold, George IV, Porter and the rest.

The Stonewall tribute park won’t hold this great man’s remains, though, after he takes his final bow. “I’m going to be buried on my wife’s family’s property, the Wair Family Cemetery, out in the woods, close to Antioch.”

Clearly Stonewall is in no hurry for that to happen. He’s been enjoying brisk-selling success with his Where Jesus Walks gospel album. “I wanted that to be my last album,” he says, with a gentle shrug, noting that it didn’t turn out that way.

His old label, Sony (formerly Columbia) has been reissuing classic Stonewall, and the singer himself is peddling music. “Tell people to go to CD Baby,” he says, when asked where the music is available.

“With the Lord’s help, I had 14 No. 1 singles,” he says. But he didn’t stop there. In recent years, he’s recorded seven CDs for the online marketplace, claiming eight No. 1 hits (on the New Music Weekly charts) from that batch. The most recent is the song “Holy Spirit.”

“My song, ‘Santa’s Crying’ shows up in the charts and stuff every Christmas. And I’ve got this new song, ‘Gravy Fingers’ that I wrote about my granddaughter, Savannah (who is 15) that I’m going to mess with at the first of the year. It raises the pimples on your skin. It’s got that ‘Hank’ feel to it.”

It’s a special treat to find Stonewall up and clothed in full country star regalia on an early Brentwood afternoon.

“I really don’t get going much until around 2 or so,” he says, explaining that back in the old days he’d be performing every night somewhere, before signing autographs into the wee hours. Sleeping until the afternoon is a holdover.

“I’m in good shape,” he says, happily, explaining that with the Good Lord’s help – “I’m a God man,” he says, proudly – he’s been able to stay healthy after many of his contemporaries have gone.

“When they was havin’ all those parties, I sent the band, and I went back to the motel and watched television.”

Course there’s not much call for late-night autograph sessions with the singer who bought the original 27 acres, the lake and the stone house in the late 1950s. “I got ‘Waterloo’ (his first No. 1), so I had a little money to pay down.”

The purchase price from the deal brokered by his old friend Eddy Arnold and his Arnold Realty was $37,000. “I always told people I bought it from Eddy. He would say I bought it from his real estate company,” Stonewall laughs.

“I miss Eddy. He was the best. I learned to sing from listening to Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams. He was quiet, he was smart, he was very, very intelligent, and he was a really good guy.”

Heckuva businessman too, and Arnold’s been given credit for pretty much “making Brentwood” by turning the section of Williamson County into a retreat where hillbillies – not welcomed in Belle Meade decades ago – could purchase land, build homes and buy steak dinners.

Eddy’s grandson, Shannon Pollard, still keeps Arnold Realty alive in the building – at 154 Franklin Road – where his grandfather conducted real estate biz, mailed autographed pictures, listened to music and entertained the occasional journalist.

Since he’s turning his late grandfather’s 61.23-acre spread on Granny White Pike into the upscale, green-friendly Voce development across from Richland Country Club, I called Pollard to talk about the Lake Waterloo property and its potential value.

“It’s one of the last pieces of land in the area that’s like that,” Pollard says. “With that size, that location and proximity to Brentwood, it’s a valuable piece of property. … (But) I’m glad he’s staying there.”

Stonewall and Juanita’s home on the hilltop and its two-acre plot became part of the Lake Waterloo oasis a few years after they moved there. “I got it for $12,000,” says the Opry stalwart.

That was at the height of his career, which began humbly enough in the sweet potato capital of North Carolina, Tabor City – “actually, I come from a little bit out of Tabor City, a railroad crossing called Emerson” – where he traded his bike for a guitar when he was 10 and he began writing songs. “I write poetry,” he says. The melodies come later.

A true honky-tonk hero, his voice, filled with heartache and passion, still draws applause when he does tour and when he takes the Opry stage. … Or on his living room couch, where on this afternoon, he tilts his head back and sings “Life to Go.”

“Jones did that, too,” he says of the song.”I said to him: ‘That’s the only song I out-sung you on, man.’”

He laughs, but it’s clear he misses old friends, wishes they could come over and maybe fish. But most of that generation is gone now. As he sang in his first hit “Everybody has to meet his Waterloo.”

Stonewall Jackson not only met his Waterloo, he lives there.

“I just love this place. You ought to come out and see it after it snows.”

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