There’s nothing more inspiring than musicians making comebacks. From Elvis Presley to Britney Spears, everyone loves a success story. And it’s even more satisfying when that story has a happy ending.
The music industry isn’t an easy place to be, and few artists end up hitting it big. Those who do succeed have to deal with a lot of pressure.
We’ll look at five great musicians who stunned the world by making comebacks against the odds.
Let’s hit it!
What Does it Mean When a Musician Makes a Comeback?
You’ve probably heard the term “comeback” before. As its name suggests, a comeback usually refers to a celebrity or public figure returning to their original career field. Artists, athletes, and politicians can all make comebacks.
Many musicians have exited the spotlight over the years. Live performances and touring for long periods can take a toll on an artist. Some may step away due to struggles with their mental health. For others, the desire to have a private life outweighs the desire for fame.
Although many performers step out of the limelight for good, some eventually return. And for their fans, nothing could be more exciting!
Let’s take a look at five musicians who made unexpected comebacks.
#1 Rick Allen
Few comeback stories are more triumphant than Rick Allen’s. This British musician began playing drums at age nine. Then, after responding to an ad for a band seeking a drummer, he joined Def Leppard in 1978 on his 15th birthday.
However, on New Year’s Eve in 1984, the musician lost control of his car and crashed into a brick wall. His seatbelt came unbuckled and severed his left arm as he flew from the vehicle. Doctors told him he would spend at least six months in the hospital. Initially, a surgeon was able to reattach his arm, but it ended up being amputated permanently due to an infection.
Despite all odds, Allen was determined to play drums again. The musician practiced on a piece of foam at the foot of his hospital bed. Once he returned to his parent’s house, he locked himself in his room and kept playing. Allen has said sometimes he wanted to “curl up into a ball and give up,” but he kept going instead.
The musician’s first significant comeback show was Def Leppard’s set at the 1986 Monsters of Rock Festival. Through nerves and tears, he gave a flawless performance. Today Rick Allen remains one of the most iconic drummers in rock history.
#2 Tina Turner
Tina Turner was born on November 26, 1939, in rural Tennessee. Despite her humble origins, she would eventually earn the Queen of Rock n’ Roll nickname. Turner’s first big break came when she started working with Ike Turner, who she later married.
Ike Turner was talented, but he was also temperamental and abusive. He acknowledged physically abusing Tina Turner on many occasions. His behavior escalated when his cocaine addiction spun out of control. She fled after a violent altercation on July 1, 1976, and filed for divorce on July 27.
Turner had mere cents to her name when she left Ike. With help from a friend, she traveled to Los Angeles and worked as a maid for a few years.
Once her divorce was finalized in 1978, she began a solo career. Though her first solo albums were commercial failures, Rod Stewart admired her and asked her to join him on tour in 1981.
Turner’s career skyrocketed, making her one of the biggest comeback successes in music history. She’s sold over 100 million records worldwide and has won 12 Grammys. In 2021, she was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
#3 Johnny Cash
Born in Arkansas in 1932, Johnny Cash was a music legend by the time he was in his mid-20s. The musician had a knack for recording songs that were as thoughtful and dark as they were catchy. But the Man in Black also had addiction issues that hindered his career.
In 1992, a chance encounter sparked Cash’s comeback when legendary producer Rick Rubin saw him perform at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert. The music guru thought the industry had mistreated Cash. So, Rubin invited the outlaw country icon to record an album on his new label, American Recordings.
Cash hesitated at first, but after getting to know Rubin better, he agreed. With near-total creative control, the musician made American Recordings, his 81st album. The 13-track record included songs written by Glenn Danzig, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen, as well as several originals. It was released to widespread critical acclaim, even winning Best Contemporary Folk Album at the 1995 Grammy Awards.
The Man in Black remained in the spotlight until his death in 2003. By that time, Cash had recorded four albums on Rubin’s label. The two remained close, with Rubin recording some of the musician’s last writings.
#4 Shania Twain
Johnny Cash isn’t the only country musician who made a triumphant comeback. Superstar Shania Twain also returned to the stage after a long absence. Twain first shot to stardom after releasing her 1995 album The Woman in Me.
Then, in 2003, the singer noticed something was wrong. Shania felt weak when she sang and sometimes had dizzy and near-fainting spells onstage. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. During this time, her husband of nearly 20 years, Robert Mutt Lange, left her for another woman.
Twain fell into a deep depression but eventually persevered. A Philadelphia doctor determined that Twain’s vocal issues were due to nerve damage from her illness. The singer underwent throat surgery in 2018 to correct the damage. Even her love life took a surprising turn: the singer married the ex-husband of Lange’s mistress!
Today, Twain is working on her sixth studio album. She’s also taken on a few film roles alongside co-stars like John Travolta and Gary Sinise. In addition, the singer holds multiple awards and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
#5 Joni Mitchell
One of the music world’s most recent comebacks is the beloved musician Joni Mitchell. The famous folk artist gained notoriety in the 1960s when David Geffen heard her play at a club in Florida. Mitchell was known for her unique songwriting style and use of pop and jazz influences.
The folk singer announced her retirement in 2002 due to frustration with the music industry. She ended up releasing one more album and working on a few other projects over the years. But in 2015, Mitchell experienced a debilitating brain aneurysm. The illness left her unable to walk or speak.
Mitchell worked hard during her rehabilitation period. Not only did she relearn how to speak, but she also learned how to play guitar again. The artist says she got the skill back by watching videos of her performances. Even medical professionals expressed surprise at her progress.
The star returned to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in July 2022. It was her first public performance since 2015. Mitchell stunned the crowd with performances of some of her greatest songs.
The Comeback Kids
Everyone knows the entertainment industry can be a brutal place. It’s hard being a celebrity, even if you’re happy and healthy. Many regular folks couldn’t handle that kind of pressure.
Maybe that’s the same reason comeback stories are so inspiring. It would have been easy–and understandable–for these five musicians to stay out of the spotlight. But it takes great determination, courage, and love of your craft to step back on stage after a hiatus.
Do you have a favorite musician’s comeback story? Tell us about it in the comments below!