Jelly Roll has much to be thankful for this holiday season – and he knows it.
The Nashville native recently won New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards and is nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards. He said he's eating better, losing weight, drinking water and not drinking as much alcohol – although he still drinks.
"When I drink, I still drink a lot," he laughs, indicating he has much to celebrate. "I'm doing better than I've ever done."
To celebrate, he wanted to give back to his hometown community with a toy drive, which he wants to become the largest in Nashville history.
"I grew up here, and I really take a lot of pride in that," Jelly Roll said. "And my spirit is always to give back. Who would I be to be so blessed and not turn around and try to be a blessing?"
The idea for the toy drive started with his teenage daughter, Bailee Ann. She started the toy drive on a small scale with her aunt four or five years ago in White House, Tennessee. They called it Buddy's Toy Drive in honor of Jelly Roll's late father. When Jelly Roll's career skyrocketed, he wanted to give Buddy's Toy Drive a larger platform. Walmart, Hasbro, the Nashville Predators, the Nashville Fire Department and more joined the cause.
"The mayor met me in a Walmart parking lot in Antioch, Tennessee," Jelly Roll said. "Dude, if you ever told me that the county commissioner … and the mayor would be coming to see me, I'd have been petrified. I'd have thought, 'God, what law did I break?' So, we've already raised a lot of toys."
Jelly Roll plans to pledge $100,000 of his own money to the toy drive to make it the biggest toy drive in Nashville's history.
The singer is just happy to be able to help – and that he matured out of the self-admitted questionable man he was in his 20s. At nearly 40, Jelly Roll tears up when he thinks about his success story and the significant role music plays in his mental health.
"I was acting kind of weird at the house one time, and (my wife) said, 'You know, ain't wrote a song in three months,'" he recalled. "I think what helps me with my mental health, and it helps me be so joyous, one coming from where I came from, which was the opposite of something. And two, just understanding the therapy that is involved with not only songwriting, but just music in itself and the true power that music holds. I'm here to connect. I'm not here to entertain. That's what I think music does. Before, I was as articulate as I am now, which I'm proud of myself; I could only speak in the form of a song. Even sometimes, like Jim Croce, I have to tell my wife I love her in a song."
Luckily for him, he said, country music casts a wider net than ever before. He talked about the success of Lainey Wilson, the talent and skill of Kelsea Ballerini, Ashley McBryde, and Zach Bryan, and the chance that country music took on him.
"It's been one of the greatest stories ever told," Jelly Roll said. "An almost 40-year-old man won new artist of the year after releasing 300 songs in his career."
Jelly Roll said it is easy to love and be loved because he loves people.
"I hated people forever," he said. "I hated life. I blamed everybody but myself. I'm in an era where I just want to love people and be loved and it feels … great. God is just getting started with me. That's for sure."
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