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They wouldn't give up, Former rodeo champion and popular country music performer Chris LeDoux is gone, but the band plays on

By: Cathalena E. Burch
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.29.2007

The Western Underground band took the stage at Kansas City's storied American Royal rodeo earlier this year and Mark Sissel could hear the chorus of sobs.

Some mourned the loss of the man who had fronted the band, the late rodeo champ and country music-maker Chris LeDoux. And a few tears, no doubt, were also of joy that LeDoux's band hadn't given up.

"It was pretty hard walking on the stage that night," confessed Sissel, Underground's guitarist and tour manager.

The last time he stood on that stage — Oct. 21, 2004 — was also the last time Sissel saw LeDoux, his friend and colleague of 16 years. LeDoux died March 9, 2005, of cancer. He was 56.

Sissel is certain he'll experience a similar wave of sadness when he and his band — which includes LeDoux's son, Ned — take the stage at Country Thunder on April 13.

The band has been touring the country for the past half-year or so, with vocalist Dustin Evans, paying tribute to LeDoux. But they are far from a tribute band. In addition to LeDoux's classic country-Western songs about riding and roping and life on the wide-open range, the band pulls out some new original material.

"We know that's what Chris wanted us to do. I think what he was saying was, 'Hey do I have to pay you guys forever?'" Sissel said, then chuckled. "It's like chasing a kid out of the house. 'Go get a job!' "

Fans at Country Thunder may wipe a tear from their eyes when they hear the band open up with "Hooked On An Eight Second Ride" — LeDoux's theme song — while a video of LeDoux's 1976 championship eight-second ride plays on jumbo screens.

LeDoux stood on the Country Thunder stage so many years that when he wasn't on the lineup, it felt like something was amiss.

"When I look at musicians and playing music and writing songs, and what I wanted to be as a person, Chris LeDoux was it," said Harry Luge, a Queen Creek singer-songwriter who met LeDoux several times over the years. "He was real. He was honest."

Comments like that warm Sissel's heart. So does carrying on LeDoux's legacy and memory.

"It makes us feel better. It makes me feel better to play the music," Sissel said. "I think it's a connection. The greatest thing is when (the fans) say, 'We're glad you're carrying on the spirit.'