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El Dorado (Ark.) News-Times - Rod Harrington
March 18, 2005

Way back in the early 1980s I worked as a DJ/entertainer at a modern country establishment in Scottsdale, Ariz., called Wrangler’s. From the outside it looked like a savings and loan or bank. Its stucco exterior fit perfectly with the surrounding area. Inside it was filled with hundreds of pieces of western art, from beautiful pictures to bronzes. Wrangler’s had three kinds of customers: those who were caught up in the "Urban Cowboy" craze, those who were white collar by day and cowboy by night, and the real cowboys. It was the latter group, the real working cowboys, which I came to love. These were guys who were not ashamed to come straight from the barns or horse arenas to the club. Many actually had more "regular" jobs, but lived the cowboy lifestyle every other waking moment. They owned their own ranches, horses, cattle and such. Often I’d hear the real cowboys request music from one of their heroes, Chris LeDoux, a former rodeo star recording music from his ranch in Wyoming. I had never heard of the guy. I promised one of the cowboys that if he’d find me a phone number I’d call and get some of LeDoux’s music. Sure enough the cowboy came back about a week later with a phone number. When I called, a woman answered the phone. I envisioned her in the kitchen, perhaps getting lunch ready for some farm hands. I explained who I was and that I wanted some Chris LeDoux records. She was thrilled. Turns out it was Chris’ mother. Within a week I had nearly a dozen albums in my possession, some autographed by the man himself. I was thrilled the first night I could play the lovely waltz "Night Rider’s Lament" or any of the other great LeDoux songs. I instantly became a fan of his honest, direct, simple and beautiful western music. I was forever in the good graces of the real cowboys at Wrangler’s. Albums such as "Paint Me Back Home in Wyoming," "Western Tunesmith," "He Rides The Wild Horses," "Old Country Heroes," "Thirty Dollar Cowboy," "Used to Want To Be A Cowboy" and "Songs of Rodeo Life " became part of the Wrangler’s collection. The club closed as soon as it was no longer a tax write-off for the owner, who reportedly owned a big percentage of the oil wells in Oklahoma at the time. Nobody outside real cowboys had ever heard of Chris LeDoux, though he was a true superstar to many. In the late 1980s Garth Brooks mentioned LeDoux ("a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux ...") in the song "Much Too Young." The fat cats in Nashville soon began to pay attention: this former rodeo star was huge among fans of the cowboy lifestyle. Though LeDoux would record numerous albums with Nashville people, his best work remained those early records. When he hit the stage performing there were few rivals. Brooks has mentioned that his high-flying, high-energy shows were a direct ripoff of what LeDoux had been doing for years. So it was sad news when I heard that Chris LeDoux died of cancer on March 9 at age 56. LeDoux had battled health problems for decades, from bad knees thanks to wild horses to needing a liver transplant. He came within a month or so of dying back in the early 1990s before getting a transplant. Brooks had offered part of his liver, but he wasn’t the right match. That’s how much love and respect Brooks had for LeDoux. "LeDoux had recorded 22 albums on his own when Garth Brooks mentioned his name in the hit song, ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ in 1989," an official statement said. "Shortly thereafter, LeDoux signed with Brooks’ label, Capitol Nashville, where he recorded 15 albums and sold nearly six million copies." If not for "Much Too Young," the world at large might never had known about LeDoux.
"The simple phrase ‘a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux’ in that famous song of Brooks’ gave the singing cowboy the boost he’d been needing, career-wise, as far as LeDoux was concerned: ‘As far as Garth helping my career, he did tremendously. It’s funny ... the first time I met him, he told me the opposite. He says, ‘Chris,’ (laughs) ‘You don’t realize what using your name in that song has done for my career,’ but I know it helped me way more than it did him. You see, we’d been doing this for probably 18 years when that song finally came out," the statement continued.
Mike Dungan, CEO and president of Capitol Nashville, added, "All of us at Capitol Records and EMI Music are saddened at the passing of Chris."In a world of egos and soundalikes, he was a unique artist and a wonderful man. We have always been proud to represent his music, and honored to call him our friend. Our thoughts go out to his wife, Peggy, and the LeDoux family."
Singer Darryl Worley added his thoughts, "I’m certainly saddened by the fact that he’s gone, and I know he’s been having some health problems. I spent a little time with Chris a couple different times. He was just really full of energy and enthusiastic and a positive guy, and he’s one of the few people I know that can go out and sell four or five million records without a record label, so I think his success and what he did with country music speaks for itself. He doesn’t really need anybody to praise him, but we 're gonna miss him." LeDoux was cremated on March 10, with a private memorial held in Wyoming. "LeDoux was a world champion bronc rider who turned to music as a second career. He sold his early work out of a trunk, along the harsh and rowdy rodeo circuits. His songs captured the romance, the freedom, the dirt and the hurt of rodeo, and drew fans who demanded tapes of his songs," his official website said."A devoted husband and doting father, LeDoux spent his time off the road with his family at their ranch in Kaycee, Wyo.," said Judy McDonough, director of public relations at Capitol. One newspaper writer said the world should have mourned his passing more. "He died Wednesday, so little-known that this paper didn 't even bother to note his passing under the ‘Deaths Elsewhere,’ headline."What a pity. Chris LeDoux, 56, was directly responsible for the current popularity of country music, a surge that began in the mid-1980s."Wait, you say. That was Garth Brooks who did that, right? Garth ‘Ropin’ the Wind.’ Garth being ‘Shameless.’ Garth driving the rain-swept streets of ‘Thunder Road.’ "Brooks, whose colossal ego is exceeded only by his talent, will tell you that Chris LeDoux made him the performer who electrified audiences with rowdy, boisterous and all-out fun live shows."Country radio DJ Jim Mantel, who handles the morning-drive microphone at WGAR FM/99.5, knows Brooks and knew LeDoux. The day after LeDoux’s death because of complications from liver cancer, Mantel told of a little conversation he 'd had with Brooks."Brooks’ path to legend status included a night opening for LeDoux, and that’s the story Mantel told listeners on Thursday. The amiable extrack star Brooks did his few minutes in the spotlight, ably pickin' and a-grinnin’ but as motionless as an East Texas mesquite tree."When it was over, Brooks planted himself in the wings, watched and learned."LeDoux rode the crowd the way he rode bareback broncs to the 1976 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship. He was all over the stage, dancing, acting up, having a wild-eyed blast while singing some of the best-written songs in any genre. "It was Brooks’ epiphany. From that one show was born the Garth persona who turned country music on its ear. The genre has never been the same."In this case, the student eclipsed the teacher. In some ways, that’s good. Love him or hate him, Brooks resuscitated country music. It is to Brooks' credit that he never forgot the debt he owed LeDoux. When liver cancer forced his mentor to undergo a transplant several years ago, Brooks offered LeDoux half of his own liver."But for the most part, the general public missed the LeDoux tugboat hauling the Garth ocean liner into port. And that’s too bad. LeDoux’s music, like the man himself, is some of the best to come down the pike in a long, long time."In the course of my career, I 've done three or four interviews with LeDoux. Every conversation felt like two old friends sitting at my grandma 's kitchen table at our family ranch in East Texas, swapping lies, sipping sweet tea and listening to an impatient bull call for his supper.
"It’s memories like these that make me want to echo Brooks in his live version of ‘Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)’ A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, Lonely women and bad booze Seem to be the only friends I 've left at all."And at the close of this stanza, Brooks yells out, ‘God bless Chris LeDoux.’ "Say it again for me, Garth. Say it again."

(Roderick Harrington is weekend editor at the News-Times.)