Chris LeDoux - This Singing Cowboy Is The Real McCoy!
by Valerie Ridenour
There are a lot of folks in country music who call themselves cowboys. There is one who carries the proof around on his belt buckle. His name is Chris LeDoux, and his buckle says 'Champion' of the World. Chris spends his time singing country songs when he's not riding some wild-eyed bronc, and he makes records. Don't go looking for them in your neighborhood record store -- not yet. Chris sells his discs through the mail, at the rate of about 100,000 copies a year. Not bad for any cowboy. With all the folks who come into Nashville hoping to land a record contract, it's downright refreshing to meet a guy who doesn't even need one. Chris will probably have to sign with a label soon just to keep up with the requests he gets. Chris LeDoux is as fine a singer as he is a cowboy.
Like most boys, Chris had an interest in horses and cattle "since I was a little kid. Dad was in the Air Force. I got interested in livestock on my grandad's farm up in Michigan. When I was about twelve, we moved to Texas, to a neighborhood where everybody had a horse and liked to go to kid rodeos. That's where I got into it - down there in Austin, Texas." Chris became interested in country music about the same time; he says it just kinda goes with rodeo. How does a kid get started on his way to the rodeo circuit? Chris recalls, "I started at thirteen with barrel racing, ring lancing, goat tying, and calf riding. Anything that had a little danger to it:' Chris laughed. "From there it went on to riding bulls and bareback horses and saddle broncs." like everything else, the age of specialization has hit the rodeo. Chris cut out the bulls and saddle broncs to stick with the bareback horses.
Music is as important to Chris LeDoux as rodeoing. "We had a little college band," he reminisced, "We put on four or five dances a year. We didn't sound like much, but we made a lot of noise. Then in '72 I decided to go ahead and try to make some records on rodeo music, because no one had ever done it that I knew of. There were riding songs, barroom songs and love songs, and a bunch of rodeo fans who wanted to hear something about rodeo. The first tape we did was in some guy's basement in Sheridan, Wyoming. There was me, a highway patrolman playing bass, and a rancher playing a little bit of lead. I played rhythm. It sounded pretty country. Our timing was way off, but we made a tape: just a bunch of rodeo songs about broncs and bulls, and going down the road. The people really liked it. We still have a lot of requests for some of those first songs we did."
Chris LeDoux's parents live outside of Nashville, so it's only natural that a Christmas visit ended up with Chris going into a real recording studio. How did a man who lives in constant danger react to the studio? Chris responded, "It was as scary as could be. It was terrifying." Nevertheless, our fearless bronc rider survived that first encounter with the microphone and lived to sing again, but he was glad to get back to the safer world of cowboying.
Chris LeDoux bought his R.C.A. (Rodeo Cowboy's Association) card in 1969. "I thought it was the biggest mistake I'd ever made in my life. I think I won two hundred and fifty dollars that year. Then the next year I won about eighteen hundred. But in 1970 I won about fourteen thousand and made the finals. I almost won, and thought maybe I didn't make a mistake after all. I've been rodeoing ever since." That decision was indeed the right one. In 1976 Chris LeDoux won the coveted title, World's Champion Rodeo Cowboy.
Chris didn't make the '77 finals. His wife was expecting a baby and he had to stay around town. "I think after winning the championship it was good to just kinda relax. I got what I wanted, and I'll probably go for it again next year." We asked how long Chris planned to keep on riding. "Till I get tired of it or have to quit. I've been luckier than a lot of guys, but I've had some injuries," Chris explained with a big cowboy grin, "I've got two bad knees, a separated collarbone, and a tailbone that bothers me. Other than that I feel good." Chris feels the most dangerous thing he's done in the arena was riding bulls. Although he doesn't ride the snorting monsters anymore professionally, Chris did make a bull ride for the cameras recently. "The 'Challenge of the Sexes'. called me to invite me to be on the show. I thought, Great - that sounds good.
"Then they said I had to ride two bareback horses_ and two bulls. I Asked if we couldn't ride some saddle broncs or rope some calves, but they said no, it had to be bulls. I didn't think they'd have anything too rank, seeing as how there was going to be girls there. I rode both my bareback horses. Then I got on my first bull. First time I'd been on one in seven years. The guys that were helping around the chutes had been on him. They were telling me how he'd string me out and he'd whip you down on his head and step on you oh, man. They was trying to terrify me. I got on and I wasn't scared a bit. I was trying to think, Now what do I do.
"It's completely different from riding bareback horses. Sandy Kirby was helping me; he said, 'Now look at this hump.' The bull turned out of there and felt good, then all of a
sudden the rope slid out of my hand and I had to get off. Then I got on the second bull. I was really anxious to get on him. I felt good on him. He jumped and kicked and circled around to the left, and I thought, Boy, I did it. The whistle ought to blow. Then he turned back to the right and I hit the ground. Then the whistle blew." One thing about bull riding is that you can never predict them.
Like all cowboys, Chris can't say enough about the rodeo clowns, those baggy - panted characters out there wearing a barrel who add so much to the fun of rodeo. "A lot of people think they're just out there to be funny. That's not the case. Your clowns are really bull fighters. They get out there to protect the cowboy. They take some awful risks getting in there to help the cowboy out. They're mighty great people. I don't know what motivates a man to want to be a rodeo clown, but they're in a class all by themselves. You have to have the guts of a lion to do what they do." The rodeo clowns think a lot of Chris LeDoux. They invited him to their convention in Oregon to "sing them some songs".
Chris LeDoux has been in the studio again, cutting another fine album. By the time you read this, Chris should have a single out. Watch for it. Chris LeDoux is a talented dude, whether in the arena or the studio. It's kinda nice to know that there's a real singing cowboy around .
*Country Song Roundup, August 1978, pg 28-29