What we do doesn’t define us, except when it does. If anybody knows this, it’s Jonathan Jackson.
Known to some as The Singing Deputy, Jackson works in the special operations unit of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office during the day. By night, he plays guitar and sings in two local bands. They perform rock, country music and just about anything else you can think of at bars, nightclubs and countless events throughout the area.
There are times when the two sides of Jackson — the deputy and musician — come together as one. This happens annually at patriotic holiday gatherings, when he dons his HCSO Honor Guard attire and sings the National Anthem. Following that, he’s been known to dust off Elvis Presley’s American Trilogy. The three-song medley is one of Jackson’s specialties, which is indicative of his shockingly wide range as a vocalist.
The 36-year-old Hall County native sat down for an interview in his Oakwood apartment with his two dogs, a German shepherd K-9 and a rescue pooch, who sniffed and roamed the living space as he spoke.
Singing “has always been a part of me,” he said as he sipped a steaming mug of herbal tea.
Jackson had a fierce cold during the interview. It was tearing up his voice, and a singer’s voice is everything to him. When performing at peak levels, the man’s vocal stylings are a sincere, Southern-kissed tenor/baritone.
Jackson comes from a musical family. His father was a classical piano player. And early evidence of Jackson’s musical roots can be found on a cassette tape (that still resides at his parents’ house) featuring a 6-year-old Singing-Deputy-to-be.
They recorded the album at a studio in Dahlonega. He sang two songs on the album, but Jackson said he didn’t truly embrace his talent until middle school.
That’s when he got one of those posters from Wal-Mart — you know, the one with 100 guitar chords on it — and sat on the edge of his bed and played until his fingers just about bled.
He memorized every chord. He developed the ability to play any song you could think of. He could turn on the radio, bob his head to a song he’d never even heard and play the tune with dead accuracy in 10 minutes.
“Still can,” he said. “I was born with it. It wasn’t something I pursued or was taught to do. I just knew how, and I did it.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case with law enforcement. In his teen years and early 20s, he started out working construction with one of his uncles. Being a policeman was something he was eventually drawn to because of the job’s stability.
“In the back of my mind, I think I always thought it was something I might be interested in doing,” he said.
Jackson started out working as a guard in the Hall County Jail, and three years later he became a patrol deputy. Now, he serves HCSO as a senior deputy, K-9 handler, a member of the SWAT team and commander of the Honor Guard — the formal, uniformed representatives of the sheriff’s office, which participate in funerals, presentations and ceremonies.
“At the end of the day, I’m able to mix both worlds,” he said. “I can be a cop. I can play music. I can be the Singing Deputy.”
Said together, the words, “singing deputy,” sound curious, as if the latter precludes the former. There seems almost a vague incongruity to the notion that the guy who’s performing an acoustic rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” could step off the stage and slap handcuffs on someone who’s causing a ruckus.
But, when the lights go down and he plugs in his guitar and stands there among fellow members of Jackson & Co. or Back in Time — the two bands he’s in — Jackson is no longer a cop, he said.
Ryan Battles, manager of Branch House Tavern, said when Jackson takes the stage “he’s just a regular old boy.”
Jackson has played at the tavern in Flowery Branch with his bandmates for about a year, Battles said.
“For people who don’t know he’s an officer, they’d never know it by his demeanor. He’s just an entertainer who happens to wear a badge when he isn’t here,” Battles said.
Jay Ivey, who plays guitar in Jackson & Co. and is a deputy with HCSO, said performing with the band is “a real good stress relief from the pressure of the job.”
“It’s great to be able to get out in a different setting ... everybody’s relaxed and having fun,” he said.
The band performed a recent show at Branch House Tavern on Jan. 14. They play there the second Thursday of every month, and it’s indeed a stress reliever, Jackson said.
“We share the understanding that when we get out there with the guitars and play, that’s our chance to step away from the other reality and relax and be who we want to be,” Jackson said.
“Not to say that when we’re at work we can’t be like that, but you deal with a lot of serious stuff out there as a cop. And, to be able to put it all aside is relaxing.”
There are some places, though, where Jackson just won’t play.
“If it’s a little too rough around the edges, if it’s not a reputable place, I’ll decline,” he said. “I have to be careful what kind of situations I put myself into. Even though I’m off work and doing my own thing as a musician, I’m still a representative of the sheriff’s office.”
Then there’s the pseudonymous Singing Deputy, the merging of worlds — of night and day. When he puts on the Honor Guard uniform and sings during one of the Memorial or Veterans Day events in Hall County, Jackson is a hybrid host of ceremony and spectacle.
“It’s an interesting thing, the Singing Deputy,” Jackson said, draining the remnants of hot tea from his mug.
The dogs barked and scratched in the other room. All questions answered, the interview was over.
Jackson stood up, opening the front door. He thanked the reporter for his time and explained, in so many words, he understood what this article was about: you shouldn’t put somebody in a box; that what we do doesn’t always define us.
“After this story comes out, maybe we can grab a bite,” he said. “I can forget about being a cop, and you can forget about a reporter, and we can get some wings.”