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10 Best Jelly Roll Songs, Ranked — Guaranteed to Get Your Toes Tappin’

Praising the son of a sinner’s most powerful and unforgettable tunes.

Success stories like Jason DeFord’s — the artist better known as Jelly Roll — are one in a billion. “There was a time in my life where I truly thought…this was it,” he recently shared with CBS News upon revisiting one of his former jail cells at Nashville’s Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility. Before the massive success of Jelly Roll songs, he landed there after years of bad decisions — including drug use, drug dealing and aggravated robbery — that started in his early teens. “Then coming here, you know, just after having been nominated for two Grammys, it just hits different,” he stated, getting visibly emotional.

His roller-coaster ride through addiction, crime, multiple jail stints and ultimately fame and success, has been dizzying to say the least. The one constant lifeline through it all, however, has been music, and the artist says he penned tons of Jelly Roll songs while behind bars.

Complete vulnerability is my constant goal in writing. Music was the way I found out I wasn’t alone,” he told Billboard, noting that he draws influences from many genres. “My sister listened to The Offspring and Sublime and Chris Cornell. My brother played Tupac and Too $hort, and [my mother] played outlaw country. To this day, I dress like a rocker, wear jewelry and a hat like a rapper, and boots like a country guy.”

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jelly roll songs
Jelly Roll (2022)John Shearer / Contributor / Getty

After being released from his final prison stint at 24, Jelly Roll headed off on what seemed like an improbable path of pursuing music as a career. And while he did become a hit on YouTube with his early rap and hip-hop efforts, the odds for broader success seemed to not be on his side.

“They told me I didn’t have a chance,” he told his Facebook followers in 2020 about fighting discrimination within the established music industry. “They said I wasn’t marketable. They said I was too overweight to connect with people. They said my music was too honest. They said ‘nobody will listen to those sad songs’ — they said my image wasn’t cool enough. They said I was too fat and too trashy.”

Still, he never gave up, and something changed after he independently released 2020’s Self Medicated album. “For lack of a better word, [the song] ’Save Me’ went viral,” he told The Bradenton Times. “It was undeniable. … Keep in mind, I had a billion views on my YouTube show. But…I was missing that one song that made people go ‘Oh, OK, this guy can do it all.’ I think ‘Save Me’ was that.”

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man holding up award
Jelly Roll at 2023 CMA AwardsJason Kempin / Staff / Getty

Let’s just say Jelly Roll’s been on quite the roll since then, collecting A-list fans, legions of new listeners, and an increasing number of award nominations and wins, including Best New Artist honors at 2023’s CMA Awards. “There’s something poetic about a 39-year-old man winning new artist of the year,” he said upon accepting the trophy, quickly turning the opportunity into a call of action to inspire others. “I don’t know where you’re at in your life or what you’re going through, but I want to tell you to keep going, baby. I want to tell you success is on the other side. I want to tell you, it’s going to be OK! I want to tell you that the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason, because what’s in front of you is so much more important than what’s behind you!”

And his own future keeps looking brighter. The father of two (he raises daughter, Bailee, 15, with wife Bunnie XO, and he’s also dad to son, Noah, 7) no doubt has countless hits in front of him. Until we get to hear them, though, here’s a recap of some of our favorite Jelly Roll songs to date.

10. “Creature” (2020): Jelly Roll songs

Both my feet planted when most people would’ve panicked. I embraced the storm, I found beauty in what was damaged.” This collaboration with TechN9ne and Krizz Kaliko finds Jelly Roll battling some demons, but embracing them as he works toward leaving them behind. “I’m not afraid of the Boogieman. Instead, I look at him like he’s a friend. There’s not a monster out there in the world that’s scarier than the one that’s within,” he sings.

“I hope this song helps somebody out there today,” he told fans via YouTube, noting the song was “written for all of those who have had to embrace the monsters under their beds and the demons outside their windows.”

9. “Wild Ones” (2023)

Was raised in the darkness, forgive me, I’m guarded. I have no shame, I’m in love with the heartless.” Even though this Jessie Murph track pits her and Jelly Roll as outlaws (“The police will never take us alive,” he raps on it), they sure sound like they’re having a blast together. “Jelly Roll has just been so positive, and every time I’m around him, I leave feeling so happy,” Murph told Billboard of this successful Top 40 hit collaboration. 

8. “Halfway to Hell” (2024): Jelly Roll songs

I’m a trailer park tornado, jagged edges on my halo.” The steady, driving groove of this country freight-train track off the Whitsitt Chapel album is a vibe, and we love that it cleverly name-checks Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” as it barrels along. “I don’t know if I’m halfway to heaven or halfway to hell. My angels and demons at war with myself,” the artist sings, but the angels seem to have the upper hand on this one.

7. “Bottle and Mary Jane” (2020)

Lately, I’m drowning my pain with a bottle and Mary Jane. No matter what I take, I feel the same.” Though nothing seems to be going right for the artist in this infectiously melodic track (“I been bound by these shackles and chains, a man of convictions, damn these addictions just can’t be tamed,” he laments), we love that he still manages to offer listeners one stealthily placed note of hope in the line, “Even though I’m damaged, I’m standing on all ten toes.

6. “She” (2023): Jelly Roll songs

And she feels like she’s flyin’ while we’re all watching her fall.” Addiction is again front and center here, but Jelly Roll co-wrote this song about the women in his life who have battled the disease. “[It’s] talking about the elephant in the room and addressing head on the heroin and fentanyl epidemic that is sweeping the nation.… And I feel like it’s an artist’s responsibility to speak for those who sometimes can’t always speak for themselves,” he said of the stellar track, for which he partnered with Shatterproof, a nonprofit helping to fight the addiction crisis.

At the end of the song’s video, contact numbers for the charity and other help lines are shared, along with the message that “No one is too far gone,” followed by hopeful images of those who are in recovery.

5. “Dead Man Walking” (2021)

I try to run from what I’ve done, and it cost me everyone, all it left me was feeling numb.” Jelly Roll rolls a lot of twisted emotions and self-doubts up in this in-your-face hit off his appropriately titled Ballads of the Broken album. This song deservedly remains a favorite with fans who helped it go all the way to No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart. “I think it’s so cool to be able to kinda tread both [rock and country] waters,” he told ABC Audio. “Like I tell people, I just make the music, I let [others] pick the box.”

4. “Smoking Section” (2015): Jelly Roll songs

I hope that Heaven has a smoking section.” The artist wrestles with painful memories of loss, loneliness, addiction and trouble with the law throughout this early classic. “I’ve learned that pain is an international language. It’s one thing that we can all speak fluently. And I wrote this for anybody who’s ever had a tough time dealing with that,” he shared during a powerful and heartfelt live performance video that he released in 2020.

3. “Son of a Sinner” (2022)

I’m just a long-haired son of a sinner.” Jelly Roll won his first big taste of mainstream success with this hit, winning three trophies, including for Male Video of the Year and Male Breakthrough Video of the Year, at the CMT Music Awards. “To me, it’s about the ultimate duality of life,” he told 100.3 The Bull about this hit.

It was inspired by his father, who “had this beautiful ability to work really, really hard yet go out and party really hard .… But he’d go to church every Sunday religiously and he lead the homeless program at his church .… I think I’ve always kind of aspired to be like that. I’m a little bit of a loose cannon, but I’m also a pretty grounded guy and I’m really anchored in family.”

2. “Need a Favor” (2022): Jelly Roll songs

I know ‘Amazing Grace,’ but I ain’t been livin’ them words.” The artist knows he’s guilty in this slyly winking tune in which he’s “throwin’ up prayers like Hail Marys” while confessing that he only talks to God when he needs a favor. Join in on the gospel chorus here if you can relate (and who can’t?), just like Wynonna Judd did when she joined him on it at last year’s CMA Awards.

“I’m such a fan of his, and he asked me to sing and I said absolutely. I got out there and I was so nervous that I just held on for dear life,” she said of their performance of the song that not only hit No. 13 on the Billboard 100 but ruled at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart for three weeks straight.

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1. “Save Me” (2020, 2023)

Somethin’ inside of me’s broken, I hold on to anything that sets me free.” This dark but beautiful tune is a kick in the gut. It finds the artist at his most vulnerable, both vocally and emotionally, as he wrestles with times he’s felt he’s a “lost cause,” telling others to not waste their time on him.

“I believe the worst feeling a person can have is feeling hopeless or worthless,” he told American Songwriter while promoting Whitsitt Chapel, the 2023 album that contains this Grammy-nominated duet with Lainey Wilson. (He previously performed it alone on his 2020 album Self Medicated.) Songs like “Save Me,” he hopes, will prove to be “therapeutic music. Real music for real people with real problems,” and all of his recent success is sure to be a lifeline to listeners who relate to his struggles.

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