Chris Lee LeDoux (, 1948???, 2005) was an American country music singer-songwriter, bronze sculptor and rodeo champion. During his career LeDoux recorded thirty-six albums (many self-released) which have sold more than six million units in the United States as of January 2007. He was awarded one gold album certification from the RIAA, and was nominated for a Grammy Award and the Academy of Country Music Music Pioneer Award.
LeDoux was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast, in 1948. His father was in the US Air Force, and the family moved often when he was a child. He learned to ride horses while visiting his grandparents on their Texas farm. At age 13, LeDoux participated in his first rodeo, riding in Denison, Texas, and before long was winning junior rodeo competitions. LeDoux married Peggy Rhoads on January 4, 1972, they had five children, Clay (29), Ned (24), Will (22), Cindy (21), and Beau (19).
LeDoux continued to compete in rodeo events through his high school years, and football, with rodeos keeping most of his attention. when his family moved to Cheyenne where he attended Cheyenne Central High School. After twice winning the Wyoming State Rodeo Championship bareback riding title during high school, LeDoux earned a rodeo scholarship to Casper College in Casper. During his junior year LeDoux won the Intercollegiate National Bareback Riding Championship.
Rodeo success and music beginnings
In 1970, LeDoux became a professional rodeo cowboy, competing on the national rodeo circuit. To help pay his expenses while traveling the country, he began penning songs describing his lifestyle. Within two years he had written enough songs to make up an album, and soon established a recording company, American Cowboy Songs, with his father. After recording his songs in a friend's basement, LeDoux began selling his albums out of the back of his truck at rodeo events.
His years of hard work bore fruit in 1976, when LeDoux won the world bareback riding championship at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Winning the championship gave LeDoux more credibility with music audiences, as he now had proof that the cowboy songs he wrote and sang were authentic. LeDoux continued competing for the next four years. He retired in 1980 to nurse injuries and to spend more time with his growing family.
With his rodeo career ended, LeDoux and his family settled on a ranch in Kaycee, Wyoming. He continued to write and record his songs, and began playing concerts. His concerts were very popular, and often featured a mechanical bull (which he rode between songs) and fireworks. By 1982 he had sold over 250,000 copies of his albums, with little or no marketing. By the end of the decade he had self-released twenty-two albums.
Despite offers from various record labels, LeDoux had refused to sign a recording contract, instead choosing to retain his independence and total control over his work while enjoying his regional following. In 1989, however, he shot to national prominence when he was mentioned in the debut song of future superstar Garth Brooks, the Top-10 country hit "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)." To capitalize on the sudden attention, LeDoux signed a contract with Capitol Records subsidiary Liberty Records and released his first national album, Western Underground, in 1991. His follow-up album, Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy, was certified gold and reached the top ten. The title track, a duet with Brooks, became LeDoux's first and only Top Ten country single, reaching No. 7 in 1992.. In concert, he ended the song by saying "thanks Garth".
For the next decade LeDoux continued to record for Liberty, recording six additional records, one of which, 1998's One Road Man, made the country Top 40. Towards the end of his career, LeDoux began recording material written by other artists, as he was tired of fighting for the right words. With his 2000 release, Cowboy, he returned to his roots, re-recording many of his earliest writing attempts.
Illness and death
In 2000, LeDoux suffered an illness that required him to receive a liver transplant. Garth Brooks volunteered to donate part of his liver, but it was found to be incompatible. An alternative donor was located, and LeDoux did receive a transplant. After his recovery he released two additional albums. LeDoux died on , 2005 of complications from liver cancer. He was survived by his wife of thirty-three years, Peggy, and their children Clay, Ned, Will, Beau, and Cindy, as well as his mother, Bonnie.
Shortly after his death, LeDoux was named as one of six former rodeo cowboys to be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 2005. He was the first person to ever be inducted in two categories, for his bareback riding and in the "notables" category for his contributions to the sport through music.
Shortly thereafter, the Academy of Country Music awarded LeDoux their Pioneer Award during ceremonies in 2005. LeDoux's good friend Garth Brooks accepted the award on behalf of LeDoux's family.
In late 2005, Brooks briefly emerged from retirement to record "Good Ride Cowboy" as a tribute to LeDoux. Brooks remarked:
"I knew if I ever recorded any kind of tribute to Chris, it would have to be up-tempo, happy ... a song like him ... not some slow, mournful song. He wasn't like that. Chris was exactly as our heroes are supposed to be. He was a man's man. A good friend."
Garth Brooks performed the song on "The 39th Annual CMA Awards" on Nov. 15, 2005 live from Times Square in New York City. Later that evening, LeDoux was honored with the CMA Chairman's Award of Merit, presented by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, to LeDoux's family.
Friends have also collaborated to produce an annual rodeo, art show, and concert in Casper to honor LeDoux's memory. The art show features sculpture and sketches that LeDoux completed for friends; none of his works were ever exhibited before his death.
To mark the second anniversary of LeDoux's death, in April 2007 Capitol Records released a six-CD boxed set featuring remastered versions of 12 of the albums he recorded between 1974 and 1993.
Award-winning artist and sculptor D. Michael Thomas is creating a one-and-a-half times lifesize sculpture of Chris LeDoux during his 1976 World Championship ride on Stormy Weather. The statue, called "Good Ride Cowboy," will be displayed at the Chris LeDoux Memorial Park in his hometown of Kaycee, Wyoming.
On October 26, 2006 Chris LeDoux was inducted into Rodeo Hall of Fame @ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK
Son Beau LeDoux, himself a rodeo competitor, on , 2007, spread his father's ashes over Frontier Park Arena during the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo:
"It was something my family and I thought would be right to do because this was such a special rodeo to him. ... This has always been a special rodeo in my family. My dad rode here and came close to winning here a couple of times."
Rodeo career milestones
Little Britches Rodeo Bareback World Championship
Wyoming State High School Bareback Bronc Championship
"National Intercollegiate" Bareback Riding Champion
"Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association" Bareback World Championship
Officially retired from rodeo competition.