This country rebel has taken Nashville by storm with his soulful voice and heartfelt hits — and proud wife Bunnie XO by his side.

Jelly Roll’s Sweet Success

Nashville native Jelly Roll has lived a life like a country song. With a face full of tattoos — and more than a few extra pounds — the 38-year-old singer/songwriter doesn’t look like artists who typically play the Grand Ole Opry. However, the talented underdog did just that in 2021 — but his road to the famed stage was a rocky one. 

Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, has been up-front about his past — and his demons, including struggles with anxiety and addiction. During his teens and early 20s, he was in and out of jail following arrests for armed robbery and drug possession with intent to distribute.

“In the beginning, I did a lot of drugs. I drank a lot of codeine, a lot of cough syrup,” he admits. “I took a lot of Xanax, did a lot of cocaine, just really took it overboard.”

Jelly Roll has since turned his life around — big-time. He’s also mined his personal pain and told his story of evolution and heartache via music on 2021’s Ballads of the Broken. The record includes the breakout hit “Son of a Sinner,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Radio and Country Aircheck charts and earned him three 2023 CMT Music Awards for Male Video of the Year, Male Breakthrough Video of the Year, and Digital-First Performance of the Year.

While the self-reflective record brought him phenomenal fame, its evocative power speaks to fans — and proves he’s country to the core.

“This album is the truth. It’s my truth. I put my blood, sweat and tears into this, and I hope y’all can hear my heart,” he says.

“Pain is an international language — everybody shares it to some degree. Being out on the road and meeting fans, I’ve learned that the more open you are in talking about it, the more people can relate to it.”

Jelly Roll first tried his musical hand at hip-hop, selling his own mixtapes out of the trunk of his car. His genre-bending career has encapsulated rap, rock and country, and as it’s progressed, he’s developed his own unique sound. It’s that sound — and his skills as a storyteller — which helped him build an online audience and grab the attention of music industry superstars — including singers Willie Nelson, Craig Morgan and Lainey Wilson.

“I was joking with someone the other day, and they said, ‘You dress like someone who’s been exposed to four different things,’” Jelly Roll says. “And I am — 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.”

Jelly Roll also lives purely as a man who’s never forgotten his roots. When the bighearted star sold out his first headlining show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, he didn’t just rock the house for the hometown crowd. He also committed about $250,000 from its ticket sales to initiatives aiding the city’s incarcerated and underserved youth — including a recording studio to help kids learn a trade inside Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center, where Jelly Roll once did time himself.

“Nashville is a town that people come and take from,” he explains. “They come, and they party. They make the best memory of their life right here on Broadway. They come, and they chase their dreams. They join the medical field. They become big musicians in the music industry and make millions of dollars. But they never give back.”

He adds, “As a local kid, I felt like it was important to start addressing the problem hands-on, at a community level.”

The compassionate crooner is also giving second chances to ex-cons who’ve paid their debts to society with his Rolling with Jelly Food Truck.

“Our mission statement was: We only hire second-chance guys,” he says. “Every other place in the world is like, ‘If you got a felony, you can’t work here.’ We’re only hiring felons. They run the food truck and come out on tour with us some nights.”

Amid Jelly Roll’s personal epiphanies and meteoric rise, he’s had a constant companion — his beautiful wife, Bunnie DeFord. He first met the stunning smokeshow after one of his early Las Vegas gigs and credits her with changing his life in “every way possible” since they got hitched in 2016.

“We are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”

Mrs. DeFord — also known as Bunnie XO — is a straight-shooter like her husband, who doesn’t shy away from her past as a high-end escort and has also undergone a positive transformation herself. The business-smart beauty, 42, now runs her own entertainment empire, which includes her Dumb Blonde podcast. She jokingly refers to herself as the “degenerate love child of Dolly Parton and Dr. Ruth” and “the trailer park Barbara Walters.”

On the pair’s wedding anniversary in 2022, Jelly Roll gushed about his gal: “She truly changed the lens in which I see life through. These last six years have been a testament of the growth two rebels can make when they bring the best out of each other and push each other to the next level.”

Jelly Roll also praised his spouse for “standing by me when the monsters attacked and fighting the demons with me” — and for being a devoted mom to 14-year-old Bailee Ann, his daughter who was born to an ex while he was behind bars.
For her part, Bunnie credits her hubby with helping her refocus her vision and become the “best version” of herself. But she’s also Jelly Roll’s biggest supporter and calls him a “game-changer,” who’s blazing the trail for the have-nots — and the duo has quickly become one of country’s most dynamic couples.

“Somebody asked me what’s the secret to our marriage,” says Jelly Roll. “I didn’t even have to think about [it]. It’s simple — we are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations; we prioritize communication; we have learned to laugh at the small shit — and above everything, we don’t take anything too seriously.”

What’s next for Jelly Roll? In addition to his new album Whitsitt Chapel — his full-length country debut, which includes the fan favorite anthem “Save Me” as a duet with Wilson — he also plans to soon release rock and rap records. In addition, he’s slated to kick off his 44-city “Backroad Baptism” Tour on July 28 — but even if he were not on the road, it would be clear that Jelly Roll will be going places.

Although we may now never be able to completely erase the mental image of adult frolicking between Dr. Ruth and Dolly Parton from our brains, we do happen to like this duo a lot. There would be, of course, the obligatory tour schedule online, as well as the well worth your time XOMG Instagram account. You really should look for that Dumb Blondes podcast. It’s a hoot. Besides, who doesn’t need a “In Hoes We Trust” t-shirt? Everybody likes gardening.

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