Chris LeDoux, a True Cowboy Hero
When most people think of a cowboy hero, they immediately think of John Wayne, or another star of old western movies. Even though the sun may have set on the romanticism of old cowboy movies, deep in the west the western lifestyle lives on. Cowboys and cowgirls work horses, raise cattle, and rodeo as a daily way of life. Chris LeDoux dedicated his life to living, and singing about cowboy life. His music not only promotes a western lifestyle, but also family values. He has influenced many inside and outside of the rodeo arena and radio. I'm going to share some lessons that I think all of us can learn from the man and his music.
Before Garth Brooks ever sang "Much Too Young" which mentioned Chris LeDoux's name, LeDoux was already building a loyal fan base in the rodeo world. He had lived on the road competing as a rodeo cowboy and won the World Championship for Bareback Riding in 1976. He would travel and compete at rodeos and sell CD's out of his car to help with entry fees.
After Garth Brooks sang "Much Too Young", which has the line "worn out tape of Chris LeDoux", the rest was history. LeDoux's fame grew and his music career took off. But his songs always have the same chords of truth including family values, and the American West.
Anyone lucky enough to see him perform live was in for a high energy packed show of a lifetime. He put the CMA'S Entertainers of the Years to shame, with his performances, which included bucking machines, carnations, Copenhagen lids, and his humorous antics. Yes, I did say with his Copenhagen lids. Whenever he would sing "Copenhagen" a special love song he wrote for his favorite smokeless tobacco, fans would throw their Copenhagen lids onto the stage. He would often have to duck for cover during the song, because hitting him seemed to be the goal of some of the well meaning fans, but he still sang with a big smile on his face.
Live Where You Love
One lesson we can all learn from Chris LeDoux is to live where you love. Chris LeDoux loved living in Wyoming. Songs like "Take me Back to Ol' Wyoming", "Paint me Back Home in Wyoming", "Western Skies", "Song of Wyoming", and "Powder River Home" showed his pride for where he called home.
I admit while growing up as a Chris LeDoux fan, I had Wyoming jealousy. LeDoux made it sound like such a piece of heaven, and after two visits there (during the summer) I agreed it was heaven. Everyone advised me to visit during the winter before actually moving there.
I never lived in Wyoming. I did head to Nashville, Tennessee to see what the south was all about. After living in the south for five months I missed the Northwest. I'll never forget driving home from Tennessee and just about the time I crossed into Wyoming, "Western Skies" started playing on my radio. I was so happy to be back in the West, I about cried. Instead I kept driving, I still had a long drive in front of me.
After moving back from Tennessee I settled in Central Oregon. I am underneath the western skies, and surrounded by sagebrush. I have a beautiful view of mountains. I can head into the badlands and ride my horse for hours. I have finally found my home, and everyday I understand LeDoux's pride singing about his home.
Play in the Rain
I remember one show I watched. It was summertime in southwest Washington, which is usually a dry time of year. This year it rained. At the County Fair there were country concerts each night. The previous night the entertainer cancelled the show for about a half an hour because of the rain. She finally came out in a duster and sang a couple of songs. Her heart wasn't in it. The night of the Chris LeDoux show it was raining harder. He didn't cancel the show. Instead he used the stage as a slip and slide. By the end of the concert he was soaked, but he never quit performing. He worked the conditions into his performance.
One thing he had that made him a great entertainer and person, is humor. Chris LeDoux was famous for his pranks! He had songs that were stories of the pranks, "Hippies in Calgary", and songs that just showed his humor "I'm Country", "Copenhagen" "Real Live Buckaroo".
Reading "Gold Buckle Dreams", a biography of Chris LeDoux, it's easy to imagine the fun he had while living on the road as a rodeo cowboy. His fun loving attitude didn't change when his music career grew. At concerts his personality carried to each fan in the audience. He always gave the best performance he could, even in the rain.
Chris LeDoux sang about the American West, and he sang from his heart. He made a few trips to Nashville at the beginning of his career, and always got the same feedback, he even wrote a song about it "They Couldn't Understand My Cowboy Songs". He had a choice, he could keep living and writing about rodeo or he could mold himself into commercial success.
The choice Chris LeDoux made was to stay true to his Western roots. He kept singing his cowboy songs, and found a niche along the way. The Music Industry couldn't argue with the success he found in his niche and he ended up with a record deal anyways. He could have compromised his life and his career, but by staying himself he kept his cowboy image.
Don't Look Back
A recurring theme in the biography, "Gold Buckle Dreams" is don't look back. This is something that Chris LeDoux firmly believed in. I think it's what gave him the edge to become a World Champion Bareback Rider and Country Music Star. He started out knowing what he wanted. In order to get what he wanted he knew what choices he had to make. He made the choices and kept moving forward, never looking back. He just blazed a new trail.
"Photo Finish" is a song that gives a humorous look at making choices and never looking back in order to get to a rodeo time. All events in the song aren't true, but the story behind the song is. He was late to a rodeo and did whatever he could do to get to there in time to ride his bronc.
In life moving forward toward goals is important. Not looking back is a very important lesson that we can all learn from LeDoux.
Show Don't Tell
We've all heard the songs, and still hear songs that basically state over and over "I'm a Cowboy". The songs are full of claims, but at the end of the song you don't really have any reason to believe it's true. There is a difference between telling something, and showing something.
Chris LeDoux doesn't have songs stating over and over how much of a cowboy he is. Instead he shows it. I could list every song he wrote here and all of them are good examples of showing the American West. The images he gives in his lyrics catch listeners. They relate, because most of them have been down the same road he's singing about. The ones who haven't been down that road feel blessed to have a glimpse down that road. He shows life as a rodeo cowboy, as a rancher, as a father, a husband, and as a true cowboy hero.
Sadly, Chris LeDoux left our world too early in 2005. I feel fortunate to have seen him perform numerous times, and I was able to meet him twice. His music has been a big influence in my life and my music. I have a lot of good memories of Chris LeDoux concerts, and just driving down the road to rodeos listening to his his songs.
For everyone who enjoyed his music, Chris LeDoux is a true Cowboy Hero. He sang about family values and he lived by those values, while raising five kids. He sings about rodeo life and the American West and he lived a rodeo life in the American West. He moved forward in life never compromising who he was, and made a living out of doing what he loved. Living by these principles made LeDoux a good man, a great entertainer, and a hell of a cowboy. The days of Western Novels and movies may have rode into the sunset. But Chris LeDoux's life and music prove that true Cowboy Heroes are still around "You Just Can't See Them From the Road".
One of my favorite albums, and the title is fitting for this hub.