Your Take: Back Again

Karlie Justus Marlowe | March 12th, 2011

Clay Walker’s latest single “Where Do I Go From You” is making its way up country charts right now, on the heels of his top five hit “She Won’t Be Lonely Long.” I reviewed the song Friday on the blog, which I thought struck a nice balance between old and new:

His neotraditional sound fit snugly into the niche reopened by the Zac Brown Band, Chris Young and Easton Corbin, and the song performed higher than any single since 2000’s “The Chain of Love.” And while that kind of streak up and down radio would make for an erratic line graph, his knack for choosing quality singles that complement his smooth twang and charm has remained constant.

Walker’s latest offering “Where Do I Go From You” is no exception, pairing a well-crafted melody with a solid, engaging performance that’s both a throwback to the singer’s heyday and a worthwhile contribution to contemporary country.

My Kind of Country has more information on the ups and downs of Clay’s performance on the charts:

Clay Walker was one of those 90s sensations that exploded right out of the box, with 5 of his first 6 single releases shooting straight to the top. Between 1991 and 1998, Walker released 17 singles to country radio, with all of them going into the top 40, and 12 landing inside the top 10. But somewhere around the end of the decade, mergers and further consolidation between labels relocated Clay to Giant’s parent company, Warner Brothers.  After a few minor hits there, he made a short-lived switch to RCA in 2001, where another sprinkling of top 10 hits followed. His third label deal came from Asylum’s Curb division.  The interesting aspect to Clay Walker’s chart success, to me, has been his many stops and starts over the past 7 or 8 years.  While most artists struggle to get back in the graces of radio programmers after a year or more hiatus, Walker has found himself staging mini-comebacks on at least 3 occasions, the most recent being last year’s top 5 ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’, his best showing on the singles chart in a decade.  But, recent history has shown Walker unable to follow up a career-reviving hit with another.

Walker’s “comebacks” aren’t rare – many artists and styles of music (revivals of bluegrass via O Brother, Where Art Thou?) drift in and out of popularity. Some experience big revivals, while others see songs alternate at the top and bottom of the radio charts.

What are some of your favorite country music comeback stories?

  1. Paul W Dennis
    March 12, 2011 at 8:23 am

    both Cowboy Copas and Jimmie Dickens had late career surges

    After a bunch of hits for the King label from 1947-1952, Copas had no charting records at all until Starday released “Alabam” during June 1960. The song soared to #1 for twelve weeks, ultimately spending thirty-four weeks on the charts. This was followed by three more hits in 1961

    Jimmie Dicken had a bunch of hits from 1949-1954. From then until 1962 he had no more records that charted nationally although he had a number of singles that were regional successes

    In 1962 Jimmie’s records started charting again with the top ten record “A Violet And A Rose”. He would continue to chart until 1972, mostly mid-chart records but in late 1965 that elusive #1 record was attained when “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” reached #1 for two weeks

  2. Ben Foster
    March 12, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I think my favorite “comeback” stories are those of artists who endured crises and difficulties that could have ended their careers, only to come back stronger. Reba loses her band in a plane crash, but then pours all of her grief into her music, and the result is one of her best albums ever. Patty Loveless undergoes throat surgery for a condition that threatens to end her singing career, only to return to the studio months later with a voice posessing more fullness and depth of emotion than before.

    It’s also neat to see Sara Evans back in the Top 20 after such a long absence, but now it might be too early to call this a full-fledged comeback.

  3. Michael A.
    March 12, 2011 at 9:29 am

    My favorite comeback kids are probably Tanya Tucker (in the late 80s/early 90s) and John Anderson (early 90s). Steve Wariner also had a nice career resurgence in the late 90s, but I prefer his 80s material to his latter run of success.

  4. Razor X
    March 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Tanya Tucker for sure. I was a huge fan of hers when I was a kid — and I still am a huge fan, for that matter. She disappeared from the charts entirely in the early 80s after Changes album didn’t do too well commercially. She was actually only off the charts for about three years, but it seemed like an eternity to me at the time. In those days before CMT, GAC and the internet, it wasn’t easy to get country music news, so it was a huge and pleasant surprise when she eventually returned in 1986 with “One Love at a Time.”

  5. Jonathan
    March 12, 2011 at 10:50 am

    My favorite “comebacks” are when singers I’ve loved my whole life come back with new music. Whenever the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, and Eagles release new music it’s always a treat.

    I always enjoy hearing what kind of music they’re making today, even if country radio won’t embrace it. I’d have to argue that for most of who I mentioned, are making better music today without pandering to country radio. They’re freer to do whatever they want and the end result is usually richer and more fulfilling.

    Also, I second Michael with Tanya Tucker. Her return in the 90s brought some fantastic additions to her catalog including “Some Kind of Trouble” and “It’s A Little Too Late” plus two of the best vocals of her career – “(Without You) What Would I Do With Me” and “Soon.” I’m amazed she hasn’t been inducted into the CMHOF yet.

  6. Jake
    March 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I’m still waiting for a Shania Twain comeback!

    I think (like Ben said) Reba coming back after the plane tragedy in 91 is probably the most enduring story of someone who lived on and continued singing for her bandmates.

    She also made a comeback recently with radio after her number one hits “Consider Me Gone” and “Turn On The Radio”. While I do understand why people want her to record more material with more substance to it, I still think she is proving that you can be an older artist and be relevent.

  7. luckyoldsun
    March 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Johnny Cash was pretty much left for dead by country radio in the ’70s and Columbia Records in the ’80s. He had a big comeback in the ’90s and 00’s with Rick Rubin and the American Recordings series. It didn’t translate to country radio, but he did get a lot of attention, video and album sales and was at least relevant again before he died.

    John Anderson had a pretty decent comeback in the ’90s with “Straight Tequilla Night,” “Seminole Wind,” and a decent number of follow-ups after being practically drummed out of the business in the ’80s.

    Kenny Rogers was KO’d in the Travis-Yoakam-Straight-Skaggs era, but he did manage a post-Garth comeback with “Buy Me A Rose,” which went all the way to #1.

  8. Donald
    March 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    John Anderson, hands down, is my ‘favourite’ come back. He’s done it twice, depending on how such things are measured. Seminole Wind, of course, after being left for dead the previous decade, and hitting back to #1 without more than one top ten in ten years. Takin’ the Country Back hit the top twenty country album charts several years later without massive hit singles. The quality of his albums dive and rise in about ten years cycles so it seems like he is always on the verge of a comeback. Johnny Cash, of course. Marty Stuart, from an artistic perspective if not sales. He had a very brief hit chart run, but ‘came back’ as a critical darling with his last several releases. Loretta Lynn had #2 albums 27 years apart, from what I can see on the interweb; true, Jack White had some little something to do with it, but still- sales are sales. For the longest time, George Jones had a noteable resurgence every five or ten years or so, but never really went away commercially or critically for any length of time. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band went away for a long time before coming back with radio hits in the 80s. As we all know or maybe perhaps suspect, country music as an industry has been very forgiving to its stars.

  9. MayorJoBob
    March 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Tracy Lawrence’s small comeback after his domestic abuse scandal then again in 2004 then 2007. I have a feeling he won’t be making any more large comebacks now that he’s out of the majors.

  10. Matt B
    March 12, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Mayorjobob, he’s not on a major bur he wasn’t in 2007. He’s on Stroudavarious.

  11. MayorJoBob
    March 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Yeah but he used two majors, McGraw & Chesney to get the song attention.

  12. Steve
    March 12, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    John Anderson for sure!! I was very young when he made his 90’s comback, but i’ve learned to really like and appreciate his material from that time. He hit it big in the early 80’s with three #1’s. 1982’s “Wild and Blue”, and 1983’s “Swingin'” and “Black Sheep”. He had a bunch of top 20’s sprinkled in there, but from the mid 80’s through 1991 he was pretty much absent from the charts. In early 1992 he hit it big right out of nowhere with “Straigh Tequila Night”, his first number one in nine years. After that came the #3 “When it Comes to You”, the #2 “Seminole Wind” and the #7 “Let Go of the Stone”. 1993 saw the release of “Solid Ground” and he hit #1 again that summer with “Money in the Bank”. Other successes from that album were the #13 “I Fell in the Water” the #3 “I’ve Got it Made” and the #4 “I Wish I Could Have Been There”. In early 1995 he had another top 5 with the #3 “Bend it until it Breaks” and a top 20 with the #15 “Mississippi Moon”. He hasn’t been in the top 20 since, but that was definately one of the most successful comebacks in modern history.

  13. Fizz
    March 12, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Well, Cash would be the obvious one, although, as someone pointed out, he didn’t enjoy chart success during his final run.

    Nobody’s mentioned Vern Gosdin. Hadn’t he been out of the business altogether for a number of years before his most successful period in the ’80’s? I’d call that a real comeback, rather than one of these “Boo-hoo, no top-fives in three years!” deals.

  14. luckyoldsun
    March 13, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Gosdin and Johnny Paycheck are definitely worth mentioning–Their substantial success in their “comeback” periods dwarfed the rather meager success that each had in his first run.

    As far as faded superstar comebacks, in addition to Kenny Rogers and Cash, there’s Hank Snow with “Hello Love”–which went all the way to No. 1 when he was over 60, and Lefty with “Saginaw, Michigan.”

  15. CountryMusicFan
    March 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I didn’t realize that Clay had been through so many record labels. At the time, I actually thought we had stopped hearing him because of his diagnosis of MS.

  16. Donald
    March 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    How did we all forget Jim Reeves? Heck, if getting duets and other recordings on the charts up to 18 years after dying isn’t a comeback, what is?

  17. Ryan r
    March 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Too me clay walker and Tracy Lawrence are the lucky ones to still have radio hits. Mark chestnut , Tracy Byrd , Clint black etc were not that lucky and it’s unfortunate.

    Here’s to hoping Montgomery gentry and Chris cagle make a nice comeback this year!

  18. luckyoldsun
    March 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    Agreed as far as Mark Chesnutt (and Joe Diffie and Sammy Kershaw, for that matter)–They were drummed out rather unceremoniously.

    The collapse of Clint Black from A-level country superstar to has-been-who-can’t-get-his-records-released is one of those mysteries. It seemed like he was more intent on fighting the system and the record labels–and on writing all of his songs–than on putting out what the market was buying. But of course, Toby Keith fought with his record labels and put out his own songs and it didn’t hurt him.

  19. Buddy
    March 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    The first thing I thought of was when Ricky Nelson put out Garden Party. I also agree that Kenny Rogers and Reba have to be the royalty of comeback artists. I still think Hank Jr could pull one off with the right supporting cast.

  20. t.scott
    March 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    John Anderson for sure,but Jerry Lee had to be the king of comebacks.
    Left for dead in the scrapheap of Rock and Roll/Rockabilly, he found a new audience in Country music and in the late 60’s and early seventies was a mainstay on the radio. After his light dimmed again with substance abuse ,He found a new label in the mid eighty’s and released some of his best tracks,although no top tens.

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