Jelly Roll Credits Music With Saving Him: ‘I Would Be Dead Or In Prison’

Jelly Roll‘s Whitsitt Chapel album is out. The 13-track record, Jelly Roll’s first country project, encompasses his entire life and career, including his times incarcerated as both a juvenile and adult, and his journey escaping what seemed to be an inevitable life in and out of prison.

“I’ve realized in life, of all the emotions that one can feel, the worst two are probably helplessness and hopelessness,” Jelly Roll tells Good Morning America. “And there was a time in my life I felt both. To be able to turn that around and find myself, and be able to figure my life out and chase my dream and my passion …Music helped save my life long before I wrote a song.

“That’s what got me into songwriting was just how passionate I was about the music, and how much it could affect,” he adds. “Music was like a sense of therapy. It was an outlet; it was a way to express myself.”

Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, has no doubt at all about how his life would have unfolded if not for discovering music.

“I would be dead or in prison if it wasn’t for music, beyond the shadow of any doubt,” Jelly Roll concedes. “I have no other qualifications.”

The Nashville native, who won all three categories he was nominated in at the recent CMT Music Awards, made the decision to turn his life around while still in prison, when he found out he was a father to his daughter, Bailee, now 15 years old. Growing up as a son of a mother who battled mental illness, and spending most of his teenage years in the judicial system, no one is more surprised than Jelly Roll at how his life has unfolded.

“I wasn’t popular in school,” he adds. “I still don’t believe it’s real. It’s still that unreal to me, everything that’s happening in my life right now.”

Jelly Roll also performed his current single, “Need a Favor” on GMA, a song he wrote with David Ray Stevens, inspired by the ongoing problem of addiction in the United States.

“I saw a statistic last year that said 11 people overdose and die in the United States of America, every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day,” Jelly Roll shares. “And that just broke my heart. I realized I know so many [people] that were victim to that statistic. The more I thought about it, I just thought that we need to attack that problem more head-on. We look at addiction in this country as a personal problem, and it’s not a personal problem. It’s a community problem, and we need to figure it out as a community. This was my best foot forward trying to bring attention to that cause.”

Jelly Roll recently said he hopes for a pardon from Tennessee’s governor, after his felony charge — from a crime he committed as a teenager — remains on his record. But he would only accept the pardon if it came with reform for other incarcerated youth as well.

“A pardon would change my whole life,” Jelly Roll tells Billboard, adding that he believes that youth should have a chance to change their lives before being sentenced to long times in prison, when he was once facing a potential 20-year sentence before he was even old enough to vote.

“Maybe we’re disciplining an age group that should be rehabilitated,” Jelly Roll suggests. “I just want to have that conversation, and if it can end in a pardon … let’s go.”

Jelly Roll’s Save Me documentary is streaming now on Hulu.  He will kick off his Backroad Baptism Tour on July 28, joined by a rotating list of opening acts, including Ashley McBrydeChase RiceStruggle Jennings, Caitlynne Curtis, Elle King, Merkules, Three 6 Mafia, Yelawolf and Josh Adam Meyers. Find Whitsitt Chapel and all of Jelly Roll’s music and upcoming shows at