Chris LeDoux: The Singing Bronc Rider
Nearly 200 nights a year, he straps on his Gibson acoustic guitar, and waits for his introduction. His heart is beating fast, and he starts sweating. He hears his name called out over the noise of the crowd, now screaming for his first appearance on the stage. The band starts going into the first song of the night. Finally, he walks into view of the crowd, ready to give them two and a half hours of his cowboy music and music from other writers. Adding pyrotechnics, loud electric guitars, whining fiddles, the beating drum and a bucking machine and Chris LeDoux goes to work.
Chris LeDoux was born on October 13, 1948. When he was in his early teens, he made his first bull ride, an event that would inspire a new career for him. He rode bareback horses through his middle and high school years. Even before those years, his mother, Bonnie LeDoux, said that Chris was always destined to become a singer. The first song he wrote was in his sophomore year in high school. After a tough day in English class, he got home and wrote “Participial Phrases-I Wonder What The Heck They Is.” Several years later, he wrote “Bareback Jack” while his friends where out drinking at a collage
Chris signed onto the Capitol-Nashville roster in 1989, but was making albums eighteen years earlier. He made his first trip to Nashville in 1967 while he was visiting his parents. He found a publisher that would listen to him sing and pick guitar. The man said that he liked what he heard, but cowboy songs weren’t selling at the time. Chris was told that if he changed his style to a “cheating heart” or “crying in my beer” that he would have a chance. Chris flat out refused. This experience is best told in his song “They Couldn’t Understand My Cowboy Songs,” which appears on his 1983 release Thirty Dollar Cowboy.
Five years went by and Chris kept writing his cowboy and rodeo songs, and regularly played at collage parties, rather than participating in the boozing that went on. Finally some of his friends told him that he should start making tapes of his songs. When he told his dad, Al, about it, American Cowboy Songs, Inc. was started. 1972 was Chris’ first release, including “Bareback Jack.” The album was named Songs Of Rodeo Life, fitting his style of writing. The final song on the album, “Them Bareback Horses” was written by Chris on a trip to a rodeo the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association, now the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) was sanctioning in Guymon, Oklahoma.
The next year Rodeo Songs Old And New was released at rodeos, western wear stores and feed mills across the west, as was Songs Of Rodeo Life. This was a collection of ten songs, several which where written by Chris himself. “Photo Finish” gives a slight idea about what a cowboy sometimes goes through with his truck. “The Passenger” gives a dark, mysterious feel of a dark, rainy night. Marty Robbins’ song “Old Red” appears on this album and another of Chris’ originals, “National Finals Rodeo” was cut for the album, as well as the rodeo ballad “Someday Soon.”
Over the next four years, Chris cut five new albums. Songs Of Rodeo And Country included the autobiographical song “Mighty Lucky Man,” in which he reveals how he felt being married to his wife, Peggy, having a son, Clay, and his gratitude for living through several years on the RCA tour without getting terrible injured. 1975 produced Rodeo And Living Free and Life As A Rodeo Man . “The Bucking Machine” on Rodeo And Living Free gives Chris’ opinion on bucking machines, even though he trained on one for the 1976 rodeo season. “Amarillo By Morning,” the song that helped make George Strait famous, appears on Life As A Rodeo Man along with “Born To Follow Rodeo,” another autobiographical song of Chris.
The two records from 1975 did well at the rodeos that sold them, but the year was a bad one for LeDoux’s rodeo career. He did extremely terrible in the points and didn’t make it to the Finals as a rider, but he was still in Oklahoma City participating in the Finals with his music before the go-rounds started. He felt extremely nervous because it was the first time he preformed in front of so many people, but even that couldn’t stop him. He went out and preformed and didn’t forget a thing, as he thought he would.
Life was going good for Chris, music-wise, at least. In 1975, his collarbone snapped while he attempted to ride the horse Molly Brown. The injury wouldn’t cease to quit causing pain in Chris, and like all cowboys, he didn’t cease to give into an injury. He trained on a bucking machine for the 1976 season all winter and whenever he could. Before the Finals came around, Chris was still well off in the points, so he took a break from rodeo and recorded Songbook Of The American West, containing two more autobiographical songs, “Goin’ And A-Blowin’” and “I’ve Got To Be A Rodeo Man.” As the year went on, Chris stayed in the PRCA Top Fifteen list for points in the bareback riding and it paid off. Chris kept rodeoing until 1984. Between 1976 and then, he released eleven albums, and had the nickname of “The Singing Bronc Rider.” Melodies And Memories was his release in 1984 and included “I Can’t Ride The Broncos Anymore,” which is yet another one of his autobiographical songs. Its lyrics talked about his transition from a world-champion bronc rider, making his money off of riding, to him being a country singer, playing his music for money as well as living off his ranch. 1984 was also the year that he changed his western area based concert from him just standing at the mic to a looser feel. He ran the stage from left to right, set off fireworks in the middle of songs; even the ballads were brought to life.
Chris took 1985 off to tend to his ranch and in 1986; he recorded his eighteenth album Wild And Wooly. Ford Motor Company used the lyrics “Just rollin’ down that great American highway, with the morning skies lit up like a flame, chasin’ dreams and following a rainbow, like children runnin’ through the rain” from the song “Runnin’ Through The Rain.” “I Believe In America” gives the fact that America does make mistakes, but with the mistakes is a comeback, and in “Cowboy Songs,” Chris tells how he hopes his music will please his fans an his hopes to live off his music.
1987 added Gold Buckle Dreams to Chris’s discography. LeDoux wrote all twelve of the songs and each varied from the other. “A Cowboy’s Just Got To Ride” excludes almost all of the usual acoustic music and replaces it with electric guitars, more bass than usual and louder drums. “The Cowboy And The Hippie” tells about the differences between two totally different groups of people and how much they have in common. “The Greatest Prize” shows how much Peggy’s love means to him. “Bareback Jack” also appears on this album.
Chris LeDoux And The Saddle Boogie Band was released in 1988. This album follows a concept line. A cowboy leaves home at “Seventeen” after being “Hooked On An 8-Second Ride.” He returns to find his girlfriend all grown up in “Look At You Girl.”
One of Chris LeDoux’s finest works to date was released in 1989, titled Powder River. Chris wrote nine of the ten songs on the album in about three months time. “Rainbow Rider” is another song about Peggy; “The Lady Is Dancing With Me” is based on the Grange Hal Dances held around his home in Kaycee, Wyoming. An excellent plot is formed in “Song Of The Yukon Rose,” held together with suspense and a twist in the ending. “Blue Bonnet Blues” is a reminder that Chris wrote based on his boy hood days in Texas. In “Johnson County War,” Chris tells the true story of the range war that took place in Johnson County in the 1870’s and 1880’s. </
1989 also put Chris into Capitol-Nashville’s sights. On his way to Casper from Kaycee, a rodeo song was on the radio station that he was listening to. Being a former rodeo cowboy, he was really paying close attention to the lyrics. He almost drove off the road when he heard the line “A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux” in country newcomer Garth Brooks’ song “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” Agents at Capitol-Nashville asked Garth who this Chris LeDoux guy was, and Garth told them he was a rocking former rodeo cowboy from Wyoming, who was selling records out west easily. Chris was offered a contract from Capitol Records and accepted the offer, and for that first year he was the opening act for many of Garth’s concerts.
In 1990, Radio And Rodeo Hits was in stores as Chris’ first release from Capitol-Nashville. It included the hit songs that were becoming modern era classics out west. In 1991, Western Underground was releases. It included the song “Riding For A Fall,” about a cowboy who rides away from his girlfriend and commitment to be what he thinks is free, but he only finds misery and sorrow. “Workin’ Mans Dollar” is a song about how America relies on the common, working class persons money to get out of its struggles.
In the song “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy,” Chris and Garth collaborate their talents into a nice free-spirited swinging song. The song was nominated for a Grammy and is preformed at a good many of Chris’ concerts. In 1993, the album Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy (released in 1992) was certified gold.
1993 also brought the album Under This Old Hat was released. It included “Even Cowboys Like A Little Rock And Roll,” a duet with Charlie Daniels. Radio hit “For Your Love” was cut as well as “Powder River Home,” written by Chris as a tribute to his life in Wyoming. Chris LeDoux Live was also released in 1993, as well. It was a video recording of a LeDoux concert that was held in Las Vegas. Many of Chris’ fans that had never seen him perform live where shocked at the liveliness that he put into the show.
1994 was a very busy year for Chris LeDoux. He released an album titled Best Of Chris LeDoux, a collection of twelve hits from his previous three albums that where released by Capitol-Nashville (then Liberty Records). American Cowboy was a box set containing fifty-four songs, two of them previously unreleased. The collection spanned his career from 1972-1994. He also released another album entitled Haywire. It contains the Charlie Daniels song “Billy The Kid, his own composition “Sons of The Pioneers” and Garth Brooks’ “Slow Down.” This album was a change from the usual rodeo and cowboy music that Chris recorded in the past.
Rodeo Rock And Roll Collection was released in 1995 and contained Chris’ ode to dipping snuff, “ Copenhagen” which he preformed as a duet with Toby Keith. “I’ve Got To Be A Rodeo Man” takes a slot in this album as well as the more modern songs “Cadillac Cowboy” and “Cadillac Ranch.”
In 1996, Stampede was added to Chris LeDoux’s discography. It contained love songs, fast and slow, more than any other style that appeared. “When I Say Forever” is a song about a man’s commitment to a woman. In “I’ll Get The Job Done,” Chris states that if a woman is looking for love, he’ll get the job done. “Stampede” is a bone chilling song about a cowboy who is riding herd one night while on a cattle drive. Late at night, the cattle rise from resting and start running. He runs ahead of the leading cattle on his pony, but the horse looses its footing and falls. The cowboy rises to his knees, sees the cattle coming and knows h
One Road Man was produced in 1998 and released later that year. Chris teamed up with Charlie Daniels again on the song “Caballo Diablo.” The 1992 song written by Tommy Cochrane, “Life Is A Highway” was cut for this album. Jon Bon Jovi combines his vocals with Chris’ in “Bang A Drum,” and Chris joins up with his cousin, Billy Bob Shane, in “Ol’ Slew Foot.” This album also includes his version of “The Fever.”
Chris LeDoux chose to release a collection of twenty of his hits from the nineties, entitled 20 Greatest Hits. A video collection of eight of the songs that appear on this album was also released in 1999, including the videos for “Life Is A Highway,” “Stampede,” “Bang A Drum,” “Five Dollar Fine,” “This Cowboys Hat,” and “For Your Love.” Every song that appears on this album was previously released. On this album, he also gives his explanation of why he lives in Wyoming rather than in Nashville in “Western Skies.”
Many of LeDoux’s fans asked him where they could find the older albums, and he had to tell them that many of them are now out of print. This gave him the idea for the 2000 release of Cowboy. “Silence On The Line” is the story about a busted up cowboy calling his wife after several years of him being gone from home. He doesn’t tell his wife that he got crippled in a rodeo, but he asks her if he could bring a “friend” home. She tells him no. After that he hangs up, walks to the southbound bus, and heads to Mexico, rather than to his Colorado home. “Song Of Wyoming” holds a better truth now than when he first recorded it in 1983 on Old Cowboy Heroes. In 2001, Chris was diagnosed with a live cancer that had to be treated within a month or he would die. When Garth Brooks heard about his friends’ condition, he called Chris’ manager and told him that he would donate the 60 percent of his liver that was needed. The good luck was short lived, though, because Garth’s liver was too small for the operation, and both men would have died had they used his liver. But another liver was found and the surgery was successfully. Chris based his next albums title on this experience.
On April 9, 2002, After The Storm was released. Garth and Chris collaborate again on the song “Some Things Never Change.” “Scatter The Ashes” is about a cowboy that needed guidance to find a new path to follow after a bad wreck he took on one of his rides. In “Simple As Dirt,” Chris states that life is as easy as a hard days work. Chris tells how he feels and what he’d to keep her love for him in “Daily Bread,” and he tells how it feels so good to be back working in “Don’t It Make You Want To Dance.” In 2002, Chris also released The Capitol Collection box set. It contained his six albums from the nineties (Western Underground, Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy, Und
Chris is still putting on shows, and doesn’t plan on stopping for a while. The 1976 World Champion Bareback Bronc Rider, songwriter, husband, and father is still recovering from his liver transplant, but everything has gone better than planned in the healing process. He spends his days on his ranch roping, riding, writing his songs and playing his guitar when he is not on the road or in the studio.
July 7, 2003
Adam said that “I wrote this article about Chris LeDoux's music career as a make up assignment for a band concert I missed.” Very well done Adam and thanks for sharing with us.