When it comes to authentic country singers, none quite hold the same level of credibility as the late Chris LeDoux. Before becoming a country singer, LeDoux's career began as a Cheyenne, Wyoming rodeo star, living the life that other country music artists only sing about. In the 1970s, LeDoux began traveling the country competing in the rodeo circuit, and music was simply something that helped him reach his rodeo dream. He began writing songs of rodeo life and selling his tapes at rodeo events to earn extra money. Meanwhile, the real American cowboy enjoyed an incredibly successful rodeo career, becoming a world champion at the National Finals Rodeo in 1976. After he reached the pinnacle of his dream, the rodeo champion turned to performing music full time, and that's when he came into contact with a future superstar named Garth Brooks.
Garth Brooks and Chris LeDoux's Friendship
The first time LeDoux and Brooks were in each other's presence, LeDoux likely didn't know it. The cowboy-turned-singer was a regionally-known artist at the time, and a young Brooks attended one of his shows as a fan. LeDoux was known for his high-energy concerts featuring flashy lights and pyrotechnic elements, and Brooks was reportedly in awe of LeDoux's show. The singer-songwriter even borrowed elements from LeDoux's set when it came time to create his own onstage experience.
"I stole my whole act from Chris," Garth once said, according to American Cowboy.
LeDoux continued his music career, releasing 20 albums independently and racking up a regional following, and Brooks kept on pursuing his career in the music business, securing a record deal with Capitol Nashville. When it came time for Brooks to release his first single, he chose "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," which just happens to include a name drop to LeDoux.
"A Worn Out Tape of Chris LeDoux..."
"A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze," he sings in the 1989 single.
That one line in the song led to national interest in LeDoux, and eventually led to him signing a record deal with Brooks' record label, Capitol Records', on the subsidiary, Liberty Records. It also sparked a long-lasting friendship between Brooks and LeDoux. The two singers always spoke highly of one another, and even released a duet together, titled "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy," in 1992. The song was a hit for both artists, landing at No. 7 on the charts. LeDoux was always grateful to Brooks for his friendship, even calling him his "guardian angel."
"And here he comes along and mentions the worn-out tapes in his song," LeDoux told The Associated Press in 2001. "To me, Garth, he's kind of like my guardian angel. It's like every time I need some help, he's there."
The two cowboys rode high in the music industry together for a while, but in 2000, LeDoux's bandmates starting noticing a change in the singer. He wasn't as energetic, he was losing weight, and his skin had taken on a yellow color. Then, in August of that same year, he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease of the liver and gall bladder. When LeDoux was in need of a liver transplant, his guardian angel Brooks came through yet again, offering to donate a portion of his own liver to his friend. Unfortunately, Brooks was not a match for LeDoux.
LeDoux, however, did receive his liver transplant on October 7, 2000. He recovered from the surgery and went on to release two more albums. But then in 2004, he was diagnosed with a second disease -- cholangiocarcinoma -- a cancer of the bile ducts. LeDoux died on March 9, 2005 at age 56.
Although LeDoux passed away, his legacy has continued to live on. After his death, he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, he was awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award at the ACM Awards, and he was posthumously honored with the CMA Chairman's Award of Merit. The city of Casper, Wyoming also celebrates the life of Chris LeDoux every November during the Chris LeDoux Memorial Rodeo. And LeDoux's guardian angel, Garth Brooks, also paid tribute to his friend after his death with the release of "Good Ride Cowboy." The song, written by Jerrod Niemann, Bryan Kennedy, Richie Brown and Bob Doyle, is meant to be a tribute to his legendary cowboy friend.
"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," Brooks told CMT of the song. "He wasn't like that. Chris was exactly what our heroes are supposed to be. He was a man's man. A good friend."