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Degree fulfills dream for Bartlett detective, musician and father

Degree fulfills dream for Bartlett detective, musician and father
MARTIN — Some people know him as detective David Jones, a 20-year veteran of the Bartlett Police Department.
Others know him by his stage name, Webb Dalton, a singer/songwriter who performs his unique style of music that has been described as “Rockabilly-Honky-Tonkin’-Rock-N-Roll.”
Now, he will also be known as “college graduate,” as Jones earned his bachelor’s degree May 15 from the University of Tennessee at Martin. He joined the university’s largest graduating class as he completed a degree that he began pursuing almost 30 years ago.
Through years of police work, a part-time music career and never giving up on his education, Jones has achieved his ultimate goal of earning a college diploma.
Jones, 46, was born in Montgomery, Ala., and moved to Memphis at a young age. He attended Frayser Baptist High School, played basketball and pursued a passion for music as a guitar player and singer. His athletic ability earned him a basketball scholarship at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., where he attended for two years and also kept his music dream alive by performing at a local pizza parlor. During the summers, while home from college, David would perform regularly in Nashville at clubs along Broadway and at the Nashville Palace where singer Randy Travis once worked as a cook.
When he returned to Ouachita his second year, he realized that he wanted to pursue music more than just part time. “So I left Ouachita and moved to Nashville, trading a basketball and books for a guitar on a full-time basis,” he said. “I lived in the back of my truck for about six and a half months at the Two Rivers Campground off Briley Parkway and then started playing with Loretta Lynn’s daughter, Peggy.” Jones played with her for several months, then formed a Nashville-based band and went on the road, performing between 200 and 250 dates a year.
“I met some good people and was very blessed in my music, playing and performing with some great musicians and artists,” he said. The list of performers that he and his band opened for reads like a who’s who of country music — names like George Strait, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, George Jones, the late Keith Whitley and Kathy Mattea, just to name a few. But, he learned early on that the music business is tough and involves many personal sacrifices. He and his band were on the road several months at a time, and his girlfriend, whom he had met while performing at the Libertyland amusement park in Memphis, became ill and spent days at a time in the hospital as doctors tried to diagnose her illness.
By this point, Jones had been on the road playing music for about five years. He said that “it came down to keep chasing a dream or deal with the reality of the situation” in terms of supporting his girlfriend through her health problem. “I loved her, so I realized that I needed to put first things first, so I got off the road, and we got married.” She recovered within a year, but they were told that having a child would be difficult, if not impossible, because of his wife’s condition and the effects of her treatment. However, Jones said that “God had other plans,” and the couple’s son, Christopher, was born May 16, 1992.
Before Christopher’s birth, Jones had begun taking criminal justice classes at what is now Southwest Tennessee Community College while working at Shelby County Juvenile Court. His goal was to land a police department position, which happened when he was hired by the Bartlett Police Department. This, in addition to a part-time job and family responsibilities, meant that college would have to wait. “About a year and a half ago, I was having a conversation with my son about how important an education is, and he needs to get his high school diploma, have a good GPA to get into college and pursue a degree.” Christopher then asked his dad if he had finished his degree. “I said, ‘No son, I didn’t. But I want better for you, and one of these days, I’m going to go back and finish.’”
Jones realized that he had “been saying the same canned response for the last 25 years” in promising that he would return to school. With three years of completed college courses covering three academic concentrations under his belt, he considered his options for finishing and learned about a retired inspector at the Bartlett Police Department who had taken online courses through UT Martin. He recommended that Jones contact Dr. Brian Donavant, a former Bartlett colleague who was now a UT Martin criminal justice faculty member. “And so I called Brian, and told him what I wanted to do, and told him I had 119 hours of college, and I wanted to go back. I wanted to finish.”
So Jones applied to UT Martin and began pursuit of an online Bachelor of University Studies degree in early 2008. The degree-completion program allowed Jones to count previous hours from the accredited institutions he had attended and pursue his remaining hours online. “Some of the classes have been very, very difficult, I mean especially the last two science classes. I have about pulled my hair out and probably aged five or 10 years,” he said. He took classes without a break, including the summers.
Things became really tough last semester when his work caseload grew to the point that he considered dropping the course. “I kept telling myself, if I drop it, then I’m going to have to take my science somewhere else, and I’m going to have to take three more classes here, and I don’t have the money, nor do I have the time. … I’d be going backwards, and so I stayed in and pulled through it.” A single parent for many years, he also faced the challenges that many adult students have in juggling a job and a family. Christopher, a junior at Arlington High School, was old enough to drive, which made it possible for him to get to school and football practice, providing Jones with more time to focus on school.
While life and school were happening, Jones’ part-time music career had flourished since his return to performing in 1993. He had been off the road for about four years when he connected with a high school friend who needed a lead singer and guitar player for a band, so he quit a part-time job and started performing again. Later, while on police duty, he met Red West, who had worked as Elvis Presley’s bodyguard. Jones told him that he was a musician, and West asked to hear some of Jones’ music. Impressed, “Red had made some phone calls to some of his friends in Nashville and set up some studio time,” Jones said. “Red also suggested I change my name. Since Red was in the movie Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze, he was partial to the name ‘Dalton’ (played by Swayze in the 1989 film).” Jones then went through his dad’s old records that included Faron Young, Ray Price and a Webb Pierce album. “Red and I discussed it and settled on ‘Webb Dalton.’ I have been using the name since ‘93.”
Jones is often asked if he regrets not pursuing a music career. “As far as making it, I enjoy what I’m doing now. I am blessed with a son, I enjoy law enforcement, and we play a lot of festivals and fairs, and I enjoy the family-type events,” he said. “We perform regularly on Beale Street and around the Mid-South, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and in Florida.” The band also performs its Redneck Riviera Tour each summer in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Ala., with this year’s tour set for June 6-12.
His Memphis-based band covers material from country to rockabilly to rock-and-roll and blues, as well as performing his original songs. Although he still has a passion for performing, the life of a part-time musician isn’t easy.
“You can go out to my truck right now. I got it loaded down with sound equipment, and you know who sets it up,” he said. “You know, it’s not just going on stage and plugging my guitar in. There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into it (performing). But it’s worth it. I enjoy it. If I didn’t, I obviously wouldn’t do it.”
He also enjoys his law enforcement career, which produced an unforgettable experience earlier this year in Bartlett while he was on duty. He was at his desk Jan. 7 when a call came through about a child who had fallen through the surface of an icy pond. Several boys were playing football on the ice when it broke; two of the boys made it to safety, but one did not. They reached the grandfather of one of the boys who called for help. Jones and two other detectives headed to the scene to see if they could assist.
When they arrived, things didn’t look good for the missing child, 10-year-old Reese Wagner, who was still under the ice at the bottom of the pond. At this point, Reese had been under for more than 20 minutes, Jones recalled. A small, tarp-covered boat just happened to be in the backyard of one of the houses next to the pond, so they uncovered it, pushed it down the hill and launched the boat. Jones and two other police officers were inside the boat, and firefighters were standing by on the pond’s bank. If the experience of a child being underwater for more than 20 minutes wasn’t stressful enough, the boat was taking in water because there was no drain plug. So, moving quickly, Jones used an eight-foot fireman’s pole to drag the pond that ranged in depth from eight to 10 feet, which meant Jones had his arms underwater for long periods of time while searching. Repeated passes through the water produced only debris and limbs. However, on one pass, he felt that he had something, and upon pulling the object to the surface, he saw a camouflage jacket and the boy, and Jones yelled, “I got him!” They pulled Reese into the boat and took him to shore where paramedics were able to get a heartbeat inside the ambulance at the scene.
Jones visited the hospital the next day where Reese was in intensive care. He didn’t get to see Reese, but he met his dad. “I wanted to see him with his eyes open. … It would’ve obviously been difficult emotionally for the family, friends and emergency personnel if Reese did not make it.” There was a lot of praying going on, Jones recalled, and a “Pray for Reese Wagner” Web page added to the people who were praying, he said.
Jones returned early the following week and found Reese’s dad standing by his bed holding his son’s hand. Reese was in an induced coma to prevent pneumonia, and the next thing that happened is nothing short of miraculous. “ … I was standing there, and Reese opened his eyes and looked up and reached his hand out to me.” Reese’s dad told Jones that Reese wanted him to hold his hand, so Jones took his other hand. And, to Jones’ surprise, the dad told him that Reese wouldn’t have asked for his hand unless he recognized him. The only interaction that Jones had ever had with Reese was that day at the pond. Jones describes the experience as an “absolute miracle,” and he gives credit to God and other rescuers at the scene for saving the boy’s life.
Not all days are this rewarding, but Jones is pleased with where his life is headed. “I just did it backwards. You know, most folks, they get their degree and they go to work, and they get their experience. I’ve gotten my experience and then got my degree. …” He can retire at 55, at which time his new degree will open doors to other law enforcement opportunities.
He’s confident, too, that he has set a positive example for Christopher, who shows promise as a songwriter/musician and was in the commencement audience to see his dad graduate. Jones wishes he had finished his degree earlier, but he said, “It’s worked out for the best.” He added, “My degree is going to say 2010 instead of 1986. You know, it’s new. It’s fresh. …”
In fact, he’s so proud of his degree that Webb Dalton’s performance tour schedule on his band’s website (www.myspace.com/webbdaltonmusic) included a May 15 stop for UT Martin’s commencement.
There might be a good song that can be written about how this story ends but, for now, the sound of his name being called as David Jones received his college degree was music to his ears.
Published in The Messenger 5.19.10

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