Jelly Roll takes the reins of country music years after battling addiction issues.
The “Son of a Sinner” singer, whose full name is Jason Bradley DeFord, is unlike many artists who came before him. He grew up writing poetry in suburban Nashville and credits Johnny Cash, Bob Seger and James Taylor as musical influences, in addition to Three 6 Mafia and the hip-hop duo UGK.
Jelly Roll’s sudden success in the industry, however, is due in part to being part of what he calls a “where-they-are-in-their-life-right-now” group. , which includes Zach Bryan and Oliver Anthony.
“We’re not the best singers, you know what I mean? We’re nowhere near the beautiful voices of Chris Stapleton or Chris Young,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
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“What I do and what Zach does is much more concrete – much more concrete. But I think it fills a necessary void.”
Jelly Roll was recently nominated for a handful of 2023 CMA awards, including New Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year for “Need a Favor.”
Although he has become country music’s newest star, music has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember thanks to his mother, who also gave him his nickname.
“She played me the good stuff: Willie, Waylon, Garth,” he told the LA Times. “I can probably sing more Garth Brooks songs than Garth Brooks.”
Jelly Roll’s eclectic style and tattooed face are not what a typical country music fan is accustomed to. He got his start selling mixtapes and released more than a dozen independent catalogs before releasing “Whitsitt Chapel,” his debut country album earlier this year.
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“The first time I heard Sam Hunt’s ‘Break Up in a Small Town’ was when the 808 dropped,” he said. “Or Keith Urban’s ‘Cop Car.’ I was like, ‘Yo, country dudes are still singing some wild shit!'”
Jelly Roll proved he was ready to sing with the stars when he performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I knew that night it was going to be my home,” he said. “When I walked out of the building, I looked at my wife and said, ‘We’re going to be in and out of this parking lot for the next 30 years.'”
The self-proclaimed “extrovert by nature” was also “the guy in prison who ran the poker table. I like to talk. I like to communicate. I like to hear people.”
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He has openly discussed his battle with addiction over the years and, at one point, served time in prison for aggravated robbery and possession with intent to sell, according to Billboard.
“At first, I was doing a lot of drugs. I did a lot of codeine, a lot of cough syrup,” he told Billboard in 2021. “I did a lot of Xanax, a lot of cocaine, I just really got over it. I spent years – man, I don’t remember years. Plus, addiction to me is way more than just my problems.”
“My child’s mother was missing from his life for almost five years due to a heroin addiction. Luckily, she is sober and back in his life now.” He has a 15-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son from previous relationships.
He added: “My mother struggled with drug addiction her entire life. When you grow up in a middle or lower class community, no one sees the effects of drug addiction like these people.”
Jelly Roll admitted that he was “not a politician”, mainly because “my right to vote was taken away from me when I was 16” due to his felony conviction. He was charged as an adult with using a gun to steal marijuana.
He said he had a “personal history” with the government.
“I don’t appreciate the way they treat guys like me, especially after it was proven that we are rehabilitated and became taxpaying citizens,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I have reinvested millions of dollars into the Nashville community.”
Once his tour is over, he hopes to have conversations about criminal justice reform with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and new Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell.
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“Why don’t we have more programs that focus on rehabilitation instead of discipline? This just shows how poorly we have educated Americans about the disease of addiction and what big pharmaceutical companies are doing to us in allowing these laboratories to create fentanyl.” he said.
“We are so far from compassion. It’s scary.”
On the road, Jelly Roll’s policy is that “two to three days a week, we do something kind wherever we are,” whether it’s visiting a juvenile detention center, a homeless shelter, or a rehab center.
“My thing is, no one I was in contact with ever came,” he said. “So I thought if I ever had the chance, I would go back so they could see – even if they don’t know my music, they don’t know who I am – so they could see, ‘Oh, he’s one of us.’
He added: “The stuff I sing about, you gotta back it up, man.”
As for the country stars still on his list to meet? Jelly Rolly is waiting for a chance to chat with Zach Bryan.
“I just have to hug him,” he said. “As different as our stories are, they are actually very similar. The military is not much different from prison in the sense that you are allowed certain freedoms, and one of them is to choose who you are .
“He never had a choice of his squad or platoon in the Navy, and I never had a choice of my unit or my cellmate. So we just learned to love people.”
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