Several years ago a major television network sponsored a contest to find a “singing cowboy.” Supposedly they were looking for someone to replace the Roy Rogers image of the 1950s. The winner had to be not only on accomplished singer, but also a competent horseman.
Although none of them entered, there are a handful of professional rodeo cowboys who could have won the contest, hands down, against the rest of the competition.
When it comes to singing plus horsemanship, it would be hard to beat the likes of Mel Hyland, 1972 world champion saddle bronc rider; Pake McEntire, national finals steer roper; Chris LeDoux, leading bareback bronc rider; or Wayne Vold, an accomplished bronc rider and pickup man.
Then, if they had a contest in singing plus bull riding, the winners would have to be 1973, ’74, and ’75 world champions Bobby Steiner and Don Gay.
Why then, were none of these talented young men among the televised finalists in ABC-TV’s singing cowboy contest? They were too busy being real-life cowboys to audition for the part. To the man, each of these rodeo riders prefers competing in man-against-beast contests to singing for a living. When asked if they were given a choice which career they would prefer, each said he would rather be a cowboy. They would prefer, each said he would rather be a cowboy. They sing for their own entertainment and the entertainment of their friends. They make a living competing as professional athletes, doing what they like to do best
Bareback bronc rider Chris LeDoux, Kaycee, Wyo., has probably made more effort to promote his singing career than any of the other singing cowboys.
Chris travels regularly to Nashville to cut albums and make tapes of his country and rodeo songs. He has made an album a year for the past four years, many of them featuring songs that he wrote.
Born in Biloxi, Miss., 27 years ago, Chris grew up in an Air Force family, living in New York, France, Austin, Tex., and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He became interested in rodeo in Texas and started entering junior rodeos there. He won the all-around at the very first rodeo he entered. His interest grew, and in high school he won the Wyoming state bareback bronc riding championship. In college he won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championship. From that, he went to the pros and has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in four out of six years.
His singing career got off to an even earlier start than his riding career. His mother laughingly tells that as a three-year-old at his grandfather’s farm in Michigan, he would stand by the fence and sing Jingle Bells to the pigs. Later, as a teenager, he bought a guitar and chord book and taught himself to play.
When he went into professional rodeo, he began getting requests to sing at parties and dances. In lonely hours on the road, he wrote some songs about rodeo. Then, he got together with a highway patrolman and rancher from Kaycee and they made a tape of some of his songs. He mailed the master tape to his dad in Nashville and his first albums and tapes were made from that master tape. He traveled to Nashville to record his last three albums.
While on the road, LeDoux sells his albums and tapes out of the back of a pickup. Many western shops also have begun to market his recordings.
It would seem that LeDoux’s career as a singer could blossom into a full-time profession for him. Chris says, however, that he won’t allow that to happen.
“My singing has to take a back seat to my rodeo career,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind a half-and-half deal with music and rodeo, but I don’t think I would ever want to give up my rodeoing for a full-time music career.”