Chris LeDoux was a country music icon known as much for his rodeo life as his time on the stage. The Biloxi, Mississippi native lived the life he sang about in his songs and went on to inspire a whole new generation of western singers.
But there was more to LeDoux than being a singing rodeo star. He was also a devoted husband, a father with a big heart and a western music visionary.
The "Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy" singer died of cancer on March 9, 2005. Here are five stories that capture the legacy that Chris LeDoux left behind.
5. He inspired Garth
Before Garth Brooks was tearing up the stage as country's resident rock n roll cowboy, the young singer was taking lessons from Chris LeDoux.
According to American Cowboy, LeDoux was incredibly nervous performing onstage. Determined to give the audience a memorable show, he introduced pyrotechnics and a light show into his performances. At one show, a pre-fame Garth Brooks was in the audience. Brooks was enraptured and borrowed LeDoux's stage-style later on in his own shows.
"I stole my whole act from Chris," Garth said.
Of course, Brooks repaid LeDoux with a line that boosted LeDoux's notoriety in the mainstream country world and changed his life forever when he sang about "a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze" in his song "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).
The two men also struck up a friendship. In 1992, Brooks and LeDoux released the single "Watcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy." When LeDoux was diagnosed with liver disease, Brooks quietly offered to donate a portion of his own liver. Although Brooks wasn't a match for the liver transplant, his generosity and kindness didn't go unnoticed
"To me, Garth, he's kind of like my guardian angel. It's like every time I need some help, he's there," LeDoux once said.
After LeDoux's death, Brooks honored his old friend with the tribute tune "Good Ride Cowboy."
4. He was a self-made musician
LeDoux got his first guitar in high school at the age of 15 and began performing songs while he was on the rodeo circuit to help cover his expenses. He recorded his first album in 1972 and even started his own recording company, American Cowboy Songs. LeDoux gained notoriety on the rodeo circuit by selling tapes of his songs out of his old pickup truck.
LeDoux had recorded 22 albums before he was signed to Capitol Records in 1991 and released his first mainstream national album Western Underground.
Despite his success, LeDoux opted to stay in his adopted home town of Cheyenne, Wyoming rather than move to the heart of the music business in Nashville. His life in Wyoming kept him connected to the life he sang about and inspired his music. And in the end, LeDoux wouldn't want it any other way. He was a lifelong westerner and didn't see the need to change when he hit the big time.
The town of Kaycee, Wyoming created Chris LeDoux Park in honor of the town's favorite son. In the middle of the park is a statue of LeDoux, titled "Good Ride Cowboy."
3. He was great to his fans
Ever humble, LeDoux always made time for his fans. He never forgot his long road to success and remembered those who helped him get there. In return, LeDoux fans were loyal and devoted.
Rob Fair, the president of the Chris LeDoux, shared some insight on the singer's character on the Chris LeDoux website.
"Chris was the nicest guy I have ever met," Fair wrote. "Whatever venue we showed up at, he was always in a good mood, had a big smile, and joking around...My two boys grew up going to Chris shows with my wife and I. One year, we brought a birthday cake for Chris to help celebrate his day... We gave him the cake, and as we walked away, he invited my two boys (18 months and four at the time) and us into his bus for cake and milk. As he poured the boys the milk, my wife Dorothy instructed them, 'Use two hands and do not spill.' Chris just chuckled. That's the kind of guy Chris was."
2. His cowboy life inspired his art
With his incredible music legacy, it's easy to forget that LeDoux was a rodeo champion. He was named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's World Champion Bareback Rider in 1976. The hard living rodeo life is the stuff country music is made of. And LeDoux didn't have to go far for inspiration. He started writing songs, such as "Bareback Jack" on the college rodeo circuit. The songs spoke to the cowboys who lived the same life LeDoux lived and sang about.
He also had an ear for great western songs. LeDoux recorded the future George Strait smash "Amarillo By Morning" in 1975.
LeDoux was posthumously awarded the Academy of Country Music Pioneer award in 2005.
1. He was a devoted father and husband
Above everything else, LeDoux was a husband and father. His family was his priority.
"What I want to be known for, on top of everything else, is that I was a good husband and family man," the singer once said. He called his wife Peggy "the perfect lady for this old cowboy," when discussing the honeymoon the two spent camping in California, living on beans and bologna. LeDoux made sure Peggy and their five kids were a part of his exciting life.
The family man cowboy certainly made an impact on his son Ned. In the video below, Ned, a rising country singer in his own right, discusses the connection his father shared with fans.
Ned LeDoux is keeping his dad's legacy alive, performing with LeDoux's old band, Western Underground. Ned, who played drums with Western Underground as a teenager, released album Next in Line in 2019.
This article was originally published in 2017.