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Former rodeo cowboy returns to Cheyenne for Frontier Days

By Ed Will, Denver Post Staff Writer
July 23, 2003

Country music star Chris LeDoux knows Cheyenne Frontier Days. He's seen it from the back of a bucking bronc and flying through the air before landing on the seat of his blue jeans in the middle of the dusty rodeo arena.

And from the spotlight on stage in front of a packed grandstand.

Wednesday night LeDoux returns to that perch, which has become familiar over the past 12 years.

Frontier Days runs through July 27, with its music series kicking off at 8 tonight with a rock concert featuring Staind, Static X and Lo Pro.

LeDoux first buckled on chaps and spurs to compete as a bareback rider at Cheyenne in 1968. His last ride came in 1984. Over that span, he took part in all but a couple of years when he had quit rodeoing.

Time has proved him to be a better concert draw there than a bareback rider.

"I won second once," LeDoux said. "I placed third throughout the years but never did win it. Missed it by one point that one year."

The Wyoming resident wrote songs and recorded them during his rodeoing days, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that his high-energy performances began building a large fan base. They eventually would change the nature of country concerts.

"I'd go to Nashville once a year and make an album," he said.

A mini-myth has grown up around the earliest years of his music career. It holds that he traveled the rodeo circuit, riding mad horses and selling albums out of the trunk of his car.

"I had a few in there, but I never made a big effort to sell a lot of them," he said. "My folks had a kind of mail-order business, and my brother went on the road for a while with them.

"I always had a few in there in case I needed gas money. If somebody wanted one, I gave it to them. I gave most of them away, I think. Most of the stuff was sold through The Rodeo News and Western Horseman."

Sometime in the 1970s - LeDoux is unsure of the exact year - he started performing live two or three times a year.

"As time went by, I'd do six or seven a year until the late '80s. Then I finally got a booking agent and a band. Things started taking off," he said.

This year his date book contains 60 bookings, most set for the summer. It's a busy schedule for a man who owns and operates a ranch outside of Kaycee, not to mention one who underwent a liver transplant in October 2000.

"I have enjoyed touring more in this past couple of months than I ever have," LeDoux said. "I am feeling good, and the new songs we added kind of breathed new life in what we are doing. It is really just feeling great out there," he said.

The new songs come from LeDoux's latest album, "Horsepower," his 36th. It arrives in stores Tuesday.

"Horsepower" follows the 2002 release "After the Storm," an atypical LeDoux project that featured gentle, reflective songs. It was the first album he recorded after the life-saving liver transplant.

"This (one) focused more on the Western end of things, more cowboy, and it's got some pretty up-tempo stuff in there. But it is still some reflective songs, too, but with a little more Western twist," LeDoux said.

He allowed that "After the Storm" may have led some of his fans to believe that his long, arduous battle for his health had taken such a toll as to tame his ruckus live shows.

"I suppose I did slow down a little bit, but I guess not so much that you'd notice it," LeDoux said. "We pretty much do what we do: Blow some stuff up and have a good time. It is just a fun little get-together when we roll into town."

He added that running out of breath a little quicker is the only lingering effect.

Wednesday's concert marks LeDoux's seventh time in the Frontier Days musical spotlight, but one of those comes with an asterisk.

"One year we just went there because Garth's (Brooks) wife was going to have a baby. If his wife went into labor, he was going to take off. So we were there kind of on standby, but he had me come up and sing a song with him. So, I sort of count that as playing Cheyenne," LeDoux said.