2 October 1948
Biloxi, Harrison County, Mississippi, United States
9 March 2005 (aged 56)
Chris LeDoux (October 2, 1948 – March 9, 2005) was an American country music singer-songwriter, bronze sculptor, and hall of fame rodeo champion. During his career LeDoux recorded 36 albums (many self-released) which have sold more than six million units in the United States as of January 2007. He was awarded two gold and one platinum album certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), was nominated for a Grammy Award, and was honored with the Academy of Country Music Music Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. LeDoux is also the only person to participate and also perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
LeDoux was born in Biloxi, Mississippi on October 2, 1948. He was of French descent on his father's side. His father was in the US Air Force and was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base at the time of his birth. The family moved often when he was a child, due to his father's Air Force career. He learned to ride horses while visiting his grandparents on their Wyoming farm. At age 13, LeDoux participated in his first rodeo, and before long was winning junior rodeo competitions.
LeDoux continued to compete in rodeo events and played football through his high school years. When his family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, he attended Cheyenne Central High School. After twice winning the Wyoming State Rodeo Championship bareback riding title during high school, LeDoux earned a rodeo scholarship to Casper College in Casper. During his junior year at Eastern New Mexico University, LeDoux won the Intercollegiate National bareback riding Championship.
LeDoux married Peggy Rhoads on January 4, 1972. They had five children: Clay, Ned, Will, Beau, and Cindy.
In 1970, LeDoux became a professional rodeo cowboy on the national circuit. To help pay his expenses while traveling the country, he began composing songs describing his lifestyle. Within two years, he had written enough songs to make up an album, and soon established a recording company, American Cowboy Songs, with his father. After recording his songs in a friend's basement, LeDoux "began selling his tapes at rodeo events out of the back of his pickup truck".
In 1976 LeDoux won the world bareback riding championship at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Winning the championship gave LeDoux more credibility with music audiences, as he now had proof that the cowboy songs he wrote were authentic. LeDoux continued competing for the next four years. He retired in 1980. With his rodeo career at an end, LeDoux and his family settled on a ranch in Kaycee, Wyoming. LeDoux continued to write and record his songs, and began playing concerts. His concerts were very popular, and often featured a mechanical bull (which he rode between songs) and fireworks. By 1982 he had sold more than 250,000 copies of his albums, with little or no marketing. By the end of the decade he had self-released 22 albums.
Despite offers from various record labels, LeDoux refused to sign a recording contract, instead choosing to retain his independence and control over his work while enjoying his regional following. In 1989, however, he shot to national prominence when he was mentioned in Garth Brooks' Top 10 country hit "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)." Capitalizing on the sudden attention, LeDoux signed a contract with Capitol Records subsidiary Liberty Records and released his first national album, Western Underground, in 1991. His follow-up album, Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy, was certified gold and reached the Top 10. The title track, a duet with Brooks, became LeDoux's first and only Top 10 country single, reaching No. 7 in 1992. In concert, he ended the song by saying, "Thanks, Garth!"
For the 35th annual Grammy Awards in 1992, the single track "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" was nominated for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
For the next decade, LeDoux continued to record for Liberty. He released six additional records, including One Road Man, which made the country Top 40 in 1998. Toward the end of his career, LeDoux began recording material written by other artists, which he attributed to the challenge of composing new lyrics. With his 2000 release, Cowboy, he returned to his roots, re-recording many of his earliest songwriting creations.
The RIAA certified two gold and one platinum recordings for LeDoux. On February 22, 1993, the single "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" went gold. On June 2, 1997, the album The Best of Chris LeDoux went gold. And on October 5, 2005, the album 20 Greatest Hits went platinum.
In August 2000, LeDoux was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which required him to receive a liver transplant. Garth Brooks volunteered to donate part of his liver, but it was incompatible. An alternative donor was located, and LeDoux received a transplant on October 7, 2000. After his recovery he released two additional albums. In November 2004, LeDoux was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma for which he underwent radiation treatment until his death.
LeDoux died of cancer on March 9, 2005, at age 56. His funeral was held on March 11.
Enough tears have fallen to fill the Powder River through Kaycee, Wyoming where Chris LeDoux called home. He died of a rare form of cancer in March of 2005. During his all-too-short 56 years of life, LeDoux was indeed a rare breed. Beloved by the rodeo world, LeDoux’s music captured the spirit of the sport - and of the American West - as few will ever likely match. The young Chris put pen to paper often. Poem after poem reflected his love of rodeo and of a young girl, Peggy, who would become his wife and bear him five children. His sense of humor and self-deprecating manner were constants even in the most painful of times. Besides writing words to become songs, Chris liked to sketch cartoons ala Charlie Russell and “Ole Chuck” would have been honored to ride alongside LeDoux. Many heroes don’t quite live up to their reputations. This Wyoming, and rodeo, hero outshined them all. A practical joke player extraordinaire, who would not intentionally hurt even the squirrels on the golf course, Chris will forever be thought of with a certain amount of reverence in these parts. There is a hole in Wyoming’s heart.
He was world champion professional bareback rider in 1976. When speaking about that accomplishment LeDoux chuckled recalling his bounty. “I won a saddle and a buckle and I got a hat and a pair of boots – and a little bit of money. The money’s gone. The boots are worn out. The hat’s gone – someone bit a big chunk out of it at Fort Worth that next winter. I still have the saddle and the buckle. But that championship gave me credibility in the music that I’m doing and helped tremendously,” LeDoux believed. His stage act came to represent a rodeo complete with mechanical bull, pyrotechnics, and pulsating energy that kept standing-room-only crowds on their feet for two hours – always howling for more. The moment the net fell and the first strains of “Copenhagen” rang out is one all Chris LeDoux fans cherished. Flinging tins was a sport in itself. It was a way to show love too, sort of like resting a bunch of roses at Barbara Streisand’s feet. Forgive the comparison but it is just the kind of image that would make Chris smile and say, “Yeah.”
His interest in rodeo stemmed from a childhood in Texas surrounded by friends and neighbors for whom rodeo was a way of life. LeDoux decided to give it a try, won a buckle, and was “bitten by the bug.” The family moved to Wyoming where rodeo continued to peak his interest. Before he gave much thought to girls or hot cars, Chris LeDoux dreamt of becoming a rodeo champ. He wrote his classic tune “Bareback Jack” while a student at Casper College. His mom had bought a guitar for Chris at Jay’s Music Store in Cheyenne a few years earlier. He first strummed and sang along to Marty Robbins “Big Iron.” He had many rodeo stars to gaze upon while living in Cheyenne and musicians then started to gain his attention. Favorites included Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Charlie Daniels. “I started listening to country music and loved it. I wanted to be able to play the guitar and sing some of those songs,” LeDoux remembered.
Football competed for some of his extracurricular time while at Central High School in Cheyenne but it was always Cheyenne Frontier Days that gave him “Gold Buckle Dreams.” His bareback riding skills rose measurably as fellow contestants offered pointers. Soon Chris LeDoux was among the top riders. He could have chosen many different paths during that period in the late 1960s and 70s but decided a wife and family – settling in rural Wyoming – was the best course for his life. A successful rodeo career was overtaken by music. Hundreds of songs about the West, cowboy and rodeo life, and love ensued. It was Garth Brooks who kicked things up several notches by singing the line “Worn out tapes of Chris LeDoux” in Brooks’ 1989 hit “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old).” Almost immediately millions more fans of Chris launched a career that brought recognition and a degree of fame well outside the rodeo world.
Writing songs became more work than fun and Chris would come to depend on others for many of his recordings during the latter part of his long musical journey. “Writing to me is like sitting in a room by yourself all day pulling one hair out a time. I did enough of that. I’m ready to enjoy other things - be outside,” he said. He would get back home to the Kaycee ranch often and when there fix fence and do ranch chores his father-in-law saved for him. “I’m usually home calving time,” LeDoux recalled. “I kind of wish I was out on the road then.”
Another passion entered LeDoux’s life in the latter half of the 1990s. Golf. That surprised the cowboy musician. “I hate to admit it. I cussed the game for years. But it’s addicting. I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s just the nice little parks you get to walk through.”
Aren’t we glad he walked through our lives? More like leaped, and sang, and helped teach us to believe there is a lot of good out there we can do for others while at the same time enriching our own souls beyond measure.
Chris LeDoux’s band, Western Underground, carries on in his honor. Guitar player, and road manager, Mark Sissel stood by Chris’s side for 16 years. “It was like getting up every morning and walking down the road with John Wayne. The only difference was there was no on-screen/off-screen. Chris was the same every day – an extraordinary person; an exceptional man,” Sissel told the crowd at the first annual Tribute to Chris LeDoux in Casper, Wyo. last fall.
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