Remembering Chris LeDoux 

LeDoux’s story may have been cut far too short, but his memory will forever live on in his legacy within the music and rodeo communities. 

By

Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

March 9, 2023

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Photo Courtesy Chris LeDoux

Chris LeDoux was well-rounded in his life as a rodeo champion, a husband, a father, and an artist whose music has gone on to inspire generations of country stars. 

While he didn’t technically start releasing his own albums until the 1970s, LeDoux’s passion for music began at a young age. His upbringing in Texas and Wyoming had a heavy influence on his love for both the rodeo and making music. He quickly made a name for himself within the sport and then in 1976, LeDoux became a world-champion professional bareback rider. 

Photo Courtesy Chris LeDoux
Photo Courtesy Chris LeDoux

Passed Away On March 9, 2005

In March of 2005, the rodeo champion and highly accredited artist passed away. He had endured a lengthy illness that caused him to undergo a liver transplant. Unfortunately, ended up losing his battle to the rare form of cancer at just 56 years old. 

LeDoux’s story may have been cut far too short, but his memory will forever live on in his legacy within the music and rodeo communities. 

The singer/songwriter was an act all of his own. He found a way to combine his dual passion and used riding and living in the American West as an inspiration for hundreds of songs including “The Rodeo Life,” “Bareback Jack,” “Watcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy,” and more. He started out by recording songs in a basement studio in Sheridan, Wyo., and selling those handmade copies out of the back of his truck at rodeos. 

Photo Courtesy Chris LeDoux
Photo Courtesy Chris LeDoux

“They say somethin’ that I wanted to say at the time, but I can’t really listen to ‘em.” LeDoux previously told the L.A. Times of his early music. “I wasn’t a singer back then, I rode buckin’ horses for a livin’, and I wrote a few songs. I never was a performer. What they said was exactly what I had in mind for the time. . . . They were ragged, but they were real.”

Garth Brooks

It was country music superstar Garth Brooks who ended up playing a huge role in kickstarting LeDoux’s career when Brooks namedropped the budding artist in a line of his 1989 hit, “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old).”

“The competition’s getting younger  / Tougher broncs, you know I can’t recall / The worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze / Seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all,” Brooks sang.

From this exposure, LeDoux signed with Capitol Records in 1992 and drew in a whole new crop of fans outside of the rodeo world. Before gaining a major record label, he released many of his albums independently, adding to the total of 36 albums produced throughout his career. 

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Great Success

He ended up seeing great success from his exceptional ability to write from the heart, leading him to sell more than six million copies in the US. Additionally, LeDoux earned a nomination for a GRAMMY and was honored with the Academy of Country Music Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award.

In 1991, he unveiled his first Capitol album titled, Western Underground, which was then followed by his sophomore project, Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy. He and Brooks joined forces once again on the title track to LeDoux’s second album. 

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This song peaked at No. 7 and marked his only Top 10 single. LeDoux later went on to perform duets with others, including the 1994 collaboration with Toby Keith titled, “Copenhagen” and “Bang a Drum” with Jon Bon Jovi in 1999. 

Soon, another inspiration worked its way into his life in the form of his wife, Peggy Rhoads. The couple was married on January 4th, 1972. They eventually settled down in Kaycee, Wyoming with their five kids, Clay, Ned, Will, Beau, and Cindy. 

Photo Courtesy Ned LeDoux
Photo Courtesy Ned LeDoux

Children Followed In His Footsteps

It appeared that his kids also caught the music bug and began playing instruments of their own.

“They try a little bit of everythin’, and I just sort of give ‘em free rein on that,” LeDoux previously told the outlet. “But we tell them to stay away from certain things; you know, if it’s vulgar or anythin’ I don’t want it in the house. And they’re pretty good. . . . You can’t stifle ‘em, pull on the reins too hard, or they’re gonna bust loose and no tellin’ what they’d do.”

Tribute

After his death, LeDoux’s traditions continued to be carried on by the band, Western Underground. The band featured his son, Ned, as one of the drummers, along with country singer Dustin Evans, keyboard player Bobby Jensen, guitarist Mark Sissel, longtime drummer KW Turnbow, and bassist Lyle Evans. 

This group of musicians is named after LeDoux’s major label debut album and served as “the driving force behind the rodeo rock ‘n’ roll sound of the legendary Chris LeDoux for 16 years.” After his passing, they decided to hit the road as a tribute to the late artist. 

Above all else, Chris LeDoux will always be remembered for following his dreams in the path of some of his favorite musical legends, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Charlie Daniels. 

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.