Cross-genre artist, Jelly Roll, has come a long way since being discovered playing old school Rock covers in the bar. Now, 15 Hip-Hop albums later and the winner of three CMT Awards for his impact in the Country genre, the 38-year-old is manifesting some more time in the Rock space.
LISTEN NOW: Jelly Roll checks in with Audacy’s Jason Bailey
His longtime fans have followed the Nashville-native since his debut studio album, Captain Strange in 2010, but for many, Jelly Roll first became impossible to ignore in 2022, and it wasn’t just because of his head-turning stage name.
In a world where aspiring artists focus their efforts into social media and streaming platforms in hopes of overnight success, Jelly, whose legal name is Jason DeFord, put his trust into the power of FM radio to propel his career and spread his music to fans of all genres.
“Audacy came in and pretty much picked the single for us, and there it went,” he said of his 2022 single, “Need A Favor,” and the role Audacy played in his success. The tune, co-written by DeFord, made history as it performed on both Country and Rock radio making it the first to reach the top 10 on both charts.
The success stretches far beyond the charts for Jelly Roll, who shared ticket sales for his live shows grew immensely in 15 short months. He detailed just how palpable that growth was by sharing he struggled to sell out an 800-seat club in Buffalo, NY 15 months before he headlined a sold-out show at an amphitheater in Buffalo with a capacity of 18,000.
The sky is clearly the limit, and while he plans to keep his momentum going in all genres, Rock is especially important to Jelly as some of his biggest influences are icons of the genre.
“My favorite singer of all-time is a singer by the name of Bob Seger,” he shared. “I grew up listening to Bob Seger and I remember just that presence. His voice sounded like a river, like a violently flowing river… my favorite song of all time is ‘Against The Wind.’”
Admitting he’d be “petrified” to release any official covers of iconic Rock songs by his heroes, Jelly Roll says he does have his sights set on a couple dream collabs.
He continued, “He’s inspired me in so many ways musically. One, his approach to music, but two, his ability to constantly reinvent and re-create. I’m the epitome of a guy that reinvented himself, right? I think we could lean into something really different.”
As Jelly sets his sights on some big-time career goals and dreams, he continues to remain humble with memories of his troubled youth never far from the surface. He’s been open with fans surrounding his struggles with addiction and the legal system since the beginning and has continued to use his platform to inspire and educate, most recently with his new album Whitsitt Chapel, and corresponding Hulu documentary, Save Me, now streaming.
“[The documentary] is the most intimate, personal thing I could have showed the world,” he shared in a press release surrounding the film. “It’s my daughter, my wife, my real life, my struggles, my mother, my family… They were with me for hours and hours, thousands of hours.”
As the documentary captured his huge heart and tackled some real world issues, it also showcased Jelly’s larger-than-life personality and infectious laugh. His ability to never take himself too seriously and always stay humble is perhaps one of the most charming things about him. Take for example the time he spotted Guns N’ Roses’ Slash backstage at a show.
“I stopped him,” Jelly said, admitting he will never be too cool to extend himself to meeting one of his heroes. “His team tried to like, brush me off [and said] ‘We’re going to the stage’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care, I need to talk to Slash.’ I was willing to get arrested to take a picture.”
With zero regrets about fanning out over Slash, he wishes he could say the same about his decision to get 96% of the tattoos that cover all parts of his body, including his face.
“Oh, 96% of ’em,” he responded when asked if he has any tattoos he regrets getting. “I’ve got more tattoo regrets than, ’Oh, I’m glad I got this.’”
“How you think when you’re 16 years old and how you think when you’re 36 are so dramatically far apart from each other. It’s embarrassing… I’ve got a Gerber baby smoking a joint on my arm. I don’t know who authorized this in my life, or who was around me at this moment, but I hate them.”
Like ‘em or not, they’re here to stay and have become a large part of his image, an image he dreams of taking to the big screen.
“I want to act, really bad,” he said when asked “what’s next?”
“I know it sounds weird, I never thought I would act, but I’ve been really inspired by what Machine Gun Kelly has done with his career over the last three years… Watching MGK do all these independent films has really inspired me.”
All bets on Jelly Roll as he embarks on whatever journey he tackles next and continues to show the world the power of big dreams, determination and a great attitude. Check out the full interview with Jelly Roll above.