Your Take: Second Chances

Ken Morton, Jr. | February 16th, 2013

Earlier this month, Randy Houser’s “How Country Feels” hit Number One on the Billboard Country Airplay Chart. On the surface, it looked like another successful song from an artist who had some earlier chart success with “Anything Goes” and “Boots On” off his 2008 album debut. But look a little closer and you’ll see that it wasn’t on the same label as that first release on Universal South Records or his sophomore effort, They Call Me Cadillac, on Show Dog-Universal.  Following a disappointing radio performance on the second album, Houser and his label parted ways and like many artists in Nashville, the future became uncertain on whether he would find a second chance with another record company.

Houser’s second chance with Stoney Creek Records is, thus far, a success story. The album debuted as a top three debut on the country album chart and “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight,” the album’s second single, is racing up the charts again.

Over the years, there have been many second-chance music success stories.  Elvis Presley revived a flagging music career with a major concert and television special in late 1968, and Johnny Cash had a second life with his Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album, and, a couple decades later, revitalized his career once more with his  American Recordings series, to name just two examples.

What musical second chances stand out in your mind? Who do you hope will have a either commercial or critical second chance success story?

  1. bob
    February 16, 2013 at 11:45 am

    By second chance here are you referring to artists who continued to make new music but it wasn’t selling as opposed to one who retired for a while like Garth. Wonder how he will do if he enters the market again?

    The artist I immediately thought of is pop artist Neil Sedaka who was successful in the early 1960’s and then again in the mid 1970’s.

    Regarding your second question, I’d like to see Suzy Bogguss on the charts again.

  2. Jon
    February 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    “What musical second chances stand out in your mind?”

    Shania Twain.

  3. Jonathan Pappalardo
    February 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    It might not technically be a ‘second chance’ but Tanya Tucker’s late 80s/early 90s revival comes to mind. It always amazes me that she was able to score a long string of hits as a teenager in the 70s and come back almost twenty years later, in front of a brand new generation of fans, and do it all again.

    I’m not really into artists having second chances at the commercial portion of their careers, since comebacks are so hard to mount in the face of changing tides (i.e. Faith Hill). I hate it when an artist, like Hill, tries to come back as though nothing’s changed, thinking they can still ride the wave of their superstar success long after it’s faded.

    I admire artists more when they go the Kathy Mattea route and take their careers in a different direction that might open them up to a whole new fan base. Mattea’s two Appalachian folk albums are not only the best music of her career, but they’ve deservedly earned her respect and admiration.

    The best music of an artists’ career often comes when they leave their major label and make music outside the confines of country radio. When artists stop trying to court the country fans who fill stadiums for Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean or arenas for Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood, they’re freed to once again make music they believe in, not music meant for mass consumption. Creating a niche fan base brings with it far greater rewards than commercial success ever can.

    On a related note, the ‘second chance’ I’ve been most impressed by in the last year is Trisha Yearwood. Her cooking show is fantastic and she’s become a wildly entertaining television personality. I’ve never missed an episode and look forward to more. People like Hill can learn a thing or two from her seamless transition into another another medium. Yearwood’s proven that you can find success long after the music industry has put you out to pasture. (Which isn’t to assume I’m not looking forward to a new album – six years is far too long a wait – hurry up Trisha!)

  4. Jon
    February 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I guess I should amplify… not her current effort at career renewal, but rather the “second chance” that was The Woman In Me.

  5. nm
    February 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Oh, ya know, Steve Earle. And then there was Nick Drake, who had a bit of a career boom a few years after he died.

  6. Andrew
    February 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Jamey Johnson with “That Lonesome Song”.

  7. Ben Foster
    February 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    For me, the act that comes to mind is Fleetwood Mac, who enjoyed success as a British blues outfit in the 60s, and then went through a period of repeated personnel changes, only to resurface in the mid 70s with a more pop-flavored new incarnation that become even more successful than the original.

    There are countless country artists whom I would love to see get a second act on the charts – particularly the generation of female artists who were popular in the nineties, and also Dolly Parton. But I can’t think of many for many for whom I would actually expect such to happen. I would also love to see George Strait and Alan Jackson back in heavy rotation, as radio recently seems to have cooled toward both of them.

  8. Anton
    February 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I’m happy to see that Gary Allan’s gotten a second chance. “Get off on the pain” was very good, yet didn’t get any radio love. But “Set You Free” reached number one for all charts, along with his “every rain” song. He really deserved this comeback.

  9. Jon
    February 16, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    “Creating a niche fan base brings with it far greater rewards than commercial success ever can.”

    Speaking from personal experience?

    I don’t see the value in general pronouncements like this, even if they were better formulated and better backed. Other things – like, for instance, a genuine passion for what they’re doing musically – aside, what makes an artist who targets a different demographic (a/k/a “whole new fan base”) any more admirable than one who continues to appeal to an already existing one?

    The point of practicing artistic integrity isn’t that artists are able to make music that *you* want them to make, but rather that they’re able to make the music that *they* want to make.

  10. Luckyoldsun
    February 16, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    John Anderson with BNA and “Straight Tequilla Night” and “When it Comes to You” was a pretty good second-go-round after being dumped by Warner Bros.

    My favorite second- or probably third chance that I can think of now is Johnny Cash being resurrected by Rick Rubin and American Recordings after falling off a cliff at the major labels. I don’t think that Cash and Rubin necessrily sold a phenomenal amount of albums but that re-emergence really did revalidate Cash’s career and turn him into the American icon that he sort of is (even after death).

  11. Leeann
    February 16, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Of course I’m going to say Vince Gill. His career struggled with RCA, but took on what we know of him today with MCA.

  12. Arlene
    February 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Ralph Stanley, perhaps after Carter died, and certainly after O’ Brother was released.

    Maybe Willie Nelson, before and after leaving Nashville for Austin.

    Kelly Willis, after being dropped by MCA.

  13. Ben Foster
    February 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    If The Mavericks could get back on country radio with the help of the Valory promotional muscle behind them, that would be beyond fantastic, but so for that hasn’t been happening.

  14. Jon
    February 18, 2013 at 9:28 am

    “Ralph Stanley, perhaps after Carter died, and certainly after O’ Brother was released.”

    I’d say the “certainly” goes the other way around; it was kind of questionable as to whether he’d be able to build a successful career on his own after Carter, but his career was not only well-established, but on the upswing in the years before O Brother came along; see, for instance, the Clinch Mountain Country project from 1998.

  15. Arlene
    February 18, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Jon- As for Ralph Stanley, I’d say it was a matter of degree. My sense is that O Brother led to him having a “second chance” at exposure to a far larger audience than the 1998 Clinch Mountain Country project.

  16. Jon
    February 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

    O Brother certainly led to more exposure for Ralph, but I think the point about “second chances” here relates to flagging careers, uncertain futures, career “revitalization” and comebacks. But those terms don’t describe Ralph during the years preceding O Brother’s release; O Brother wasn’t a comeback for him, because he hadn’t been away.

  17. Arlene
    February 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I don’t know– I’m not sure it would be accurate to suggest that Johnny Cash or Elvis had ever “been away,” yet both are mentioned prominently in Ken’s article about second chances; both had continued to record and it is my impression that when they chose to perform live, both remained significant concert draws.

  18. Rick
    February 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I’m really hoping Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose” album sells well due to her now being a Pistol Annie so she can get some of the respect her “Satisfied” album deserved back in 2006.

    I’m also hoping Sunny Sweeney comes up with another single that can hit the Top 10 like “From A Table Away” so she doesn’t go down in history as a “one hit wonder” on Top 40 Country Radio.

  19. Jon
    February 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Compared to Ralph’s pretty much straight upward line career from at least the late 80s up 2001 (O Brother), both Presley and Cash did, indeed, come back from lower points. Ken refers to them both that way, and it’s not hard to find others who see it that way, too; for instance, Elvis’ 1968 NBC special is widely referred to as his “Comeback Special,” while Cash’s American Recordings is an entry in Time magazine’s 2008 multi-genre list, “Top 10 Comeback Albums.”

    A more apt “second chance” example in the bluegrass world than Ralph would be IIIrd Tyme Out, whose success in the past 3 or so years comes after a stretch of difficulties that included fewer awards, less coverage and airplay, etc. , which in turn followed their big success in the mid-late 90s. Things like this Cracker Barrel album are a real second chance for them, and it’s very well deserved.

  20. BRUCE
    February 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm


    Here’s hoping for Sweeney as well. Can’t quite understand why momentum didn’t build for her. She has just enough distinctiveness to separate her from the other “barbie-doll sounds-like-the-other” clones.”

    Same can be said for Ashton Shepherd.

  21. Arlene
    February 18, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Jon- A popular, but perhaps unwarranted, public perception persists that O Brother constitued a major comeback for Ralph Stanley. For example:

    Mon., Oct. 23, 2006
    John Nova Lomax
    The Houston Press

    “Sure, there have been unlikelier comebacks, but not many. Not since Lightnin’ “Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt were rediscovered in the 1960s has an artist’s ascent out of relative obscurity been more dramatic than Ralph Stanley’s rocket shot from bluegrass festival elder statesman to country music chart-topper.

    Over the course of the past year, the 76-year-old has been profiled in The New Yorker, Spin and the Oxford American. His “O Death” and “Angel Band” (with his late brother Carter) were vital contributions to the platinum-selling O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which won the CMA award for Album of the Year. He’s been the subject of numerous documentaries. His key chain jangles with keys to cities from coast to coast. He’s done Letterman. He found the time to release the follow-up documentary to O Brother (Down from the Mountain)and the Clinch Mountain Sweethearts duet CD. And oh yeah, at an age when most folks have settled into the front-porch rocking chair, Stanley has crisscrossed the country to play about 150 gigs.”

  22. Barry Mazor
    February 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    The misconception is that if those audiences and related pubs are not talking about him (Ralph S, fin this case) he’s “forgotten” or “not doing anything.” which is provincial of THEM. All things get judged by the perception of the audience at hand, and as different as the New Yorker, Spin and OA audiences were , just so many reading any of them would have been up on what’s going on in bluegrass. The O Bro phenomenon gave them the momentary delusion that they did –since they were going, not for the first or last time, for the “novelty.” They liked Ralph fine for awhile, and told us how unearthly he sounded because he was old. Which was more or less the same way he sounded when he was young.

  23. Jon
    February 19, 2013 at 9:41 am

    I think JNL wrongly mixes together a couple of different things there. As Barry suggests, the ones that are new are the ones from the realm familiar to folks more outside the bluegrass world than of it – Letterman and so forth – while within that world, he’d been touring coast to coast (and internationally) for many years, was selling more records than in the past, etc. He hadn’t been on Letterman before (hence no “comeback”), while he’d been playing 150 dates (and more) all along (also hence no “comeback”).

    If you can show me something similar with respect to Elvis and Cash – that their comebacks in fact weren’t – then I will cheerfully admit that yes, Ken was wrong ;-).

  24. Barry Mazor
    February 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

    It’s the difference between a “comeback” and audience growth or resurgence. But in the end any artist is dang lucky to experience any of those!

  25. Arlene
    February 19, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I’m deferring to the professionals here but in my own defense, I don’t think I ever criticized Ken. I cited him to support my view that a working musician could have a comeback or second chance even if he or she had consistently been recording or creating music all along, if/when he or she returns to much greater prominence. But again– “uncle.”

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