“Respect is mutual, and real recognizes real. So absolutely, we’ve talked about working together. You guys may not look at me and realize this, but I have a pretty jaded past as well.”
Obviously the two may seem like an unlikely pair: Cody Johnson is a former bull rider and corrections officer, with a straight-edge style that evokes George Strait in his pressed jeans, button-up shirts and cowboy hat.
And Jelly Roll has been open about his time spent in and out of jail in his younger years, with the tattoos covering his face serving as a reminder of his past.
But despite the fact that Cody’s music leans more traditional, Texas country while Jelly Roll’s debut country album contains a heavy rock sound, one thing that the artists have in common is that they’re both undeniably authentic. And that’s where the best music comes from – and why this collab just works.
Cody just dropped his new album, Leather, which features Jelly Roll on the new song “Whiskey Bent,” a heartbreaking ballad about trying to put your life back together after the mistakes you’ve made in the past.
“It made me say some things I shouldn’t Made me break some things I wouldn’t Like the heart that you kept puttin’ in my hands Got me pickin’ up the pieces, gettin’ back in touch with Jesus For some grace in case one of y’all comes back again I’m just trying to straighten up what whiskey bent”
But Cody admits that when he was first pitched the song, written by Adam James, Mikey Reaves and Rocky Block, he hated the title – and said he wasn’t going to record it, until he actually listened to the lyrics:
“I hated the title. They told me the title and I said, ‘I hate it already because it sounds like an old cliché; I’m not singing that song.’
But then I heard the lyrics about trying to put a life and a love back together—especially the hook, ‘I’m still trying to straighten out what whiskey bent.’”
And he had originally asked Jelly Roll to sing on another song on the album, “Jesus Loves You.” But when Jelly heard “Whiskey Bent,” he knew he wanted to be a part of it:
“He asked me what else I was working on and I played him ‘Whiskey Bent.’
He just started crying and was like, ‘Bro, I ain’t never heard a song like that. If I’m gonna be on a song, can it be that one?’
I gave him the entire second verse. It didn’t take him long to learn the song and he did incredibly.”
The result is one of the standout tracks on the album, something Cody attributes to both of them being able to relate to the song in their own ways:
“I think we’ve both lived that song in our own ways.
People look at me as this clean-cut, wholesome guy, but I’m no different than anybody else. I’ve got demons in my closet and things in my past that are hard to deal with, that I go to therapy sometimes to deal with.
I’ve lived a very fast-paced, lot-of-pressure kind of life and I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t started doing regular sessions; I need to talk in the moment. I’m slowly but surely softening up, just like the song ‘Leather.’
I know it takes time to open up and not be so hard-edged on that. But just recognizing it is the hard part.”
It may seem like an unlikely collaboration, but once you hear it, it’s clear exactly why it works so well: Because it’s authentic, just like the artists themselves.