Chris LeDoux / YouTube
Chris LeDoux may have only been 57 when he passed away, but he spent a large portion of his life as a successful country music singer and songwriter. Over the course of his career, LeDoux released 36 albums, and sold more than six million in the U.S.
LeDoux’s career didn’t get its start in country music, but rather in the rodeo. As a professional rodeo cowboy, LeDoux lived the true country boy lifestyle, and felt inspired to write songs about his experiences.
After winning the National Final Rodeo in Oklahoma City in 1976, LeDoux used his fame to help his music reach more people.
Though it wasn’t until a few years later that LeDoux achieved major fame as a country music singer, partially due to a newcomer to the industry at the time by the name of Garth Brooks.
As a longtime fan of LeDoux, Brooks had mentioned his name in his debut single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” LeDoux decided to take advantage of the new attention Brooks’ song gave him, and signed with a record label after previously releasing all of his other albums on his own.
LeDoux’s choice to sign with a label ended up paying off, and his most popular album became his 1992 release called Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy, which has since gone on to be certified Gold by the RIAA. Through this album and his many others, LeDoux was able to leave a permanent mark on country music.
The later years of LeDoux’s life were plagued with health issues, starting when he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis in 2000, which required a liver transplant.
He managed to recover, and released two more albums before he was diagnosed with what is commonly referred to as bile duct cancer in November 2004. He passed away a few months later, on March 9, 2005.
If it hadn’t been for the disease that took his life, we have no doubt LeDoux would still be recording and releasing music today. But even though he is gone, we still have some incredible songs to remember him by.
You can listen to some of them below, along with an interview with his son, Ned.
Released in 1991, “This Cowboy’s Hat” was the first single off of LeDoux’s first record with his label, called Western Underground. The song made its way onto the country charts, and was his most successful single up to that point.
“This Cowboy’s Hat” ended up peaking at the 63rd spot on the Billboard country charts, and was the most successful single off of the album.
The verses of the song are spoken, with the chorus being the only part that is sung. This gives the song the feeling of an old tale that cowboys would share with one another around the campfire. That feeling seems appropriate for the song, since it’s all about a cowboy’s determination to maintain his way of life, as he sings about all of the things that would happen “long before you take this cowboy’s hat.”
Originally written and released by Bruce Springsteen in 1987, LeDoux took “Tougher Than the Rest” and made it his own. His version of the song was released in 1995 as the second single off of his album, Haywire.
Although many artists have covered “Tougher Than the Rest” over the years, LeDoux’s version remains one of the most successful. The song managed to claim the 67th spot on the charts, and was his highest-charting song off of Haywire.
LeDoux’s version of the song is truly country, and the music video even more so. Suddenly, lyrics such as “Well it’s Saturday night/You’re all dressed up in blue,” take on a whole new meaning in LeDoux’s version of the song, as “blue” stands in for “denim.”
Somehow, LeDoux managed to take a rock song and turn it into a classic-sounding country tune, proving just how talented he was as an artist.
LeDoux’s son, Ned knew from an early age that music was also his passion. He started playing in his father’s band in 1998, and after his death he’s helped to keep his father’s legacy alive by playing his old songs, including some he never finished writing.
In 2015, Ned sat down for an interview to talk about his father and his legacy, but more importantly, his role as a father.
“If you’re a country music fan, you know who Chris LeDoux is,” Ned said. “Great singer-songwriter, probably put on one of the best shows in the business. If you’re a rodeo fan you know him as a 1976 bareback world champ. But if you’re me or any of my siblings, you know him as dad.“
When asked why he thought his father and his cowboy image were so popular with country music fans, Ned couldn’t really explain it, other than, “he just had that connection with those type of people, and they really loved his music.”
Through his songs and rodeo persona, LeDoux was able to appeal to the inner cowboy or cowgirl in all country fans. He was a true storyteller, and his songs transported us back into the era of the Wild West.
LeDoux is certainly missed today, but his son Ned is helping to keep his legacy alive by continuing to sing the iconic songs many have grown to love. Because of that, the cowboy rides on.