Chris LeDoux (1948-2005), the Singing Bronc Rider, pursued dreams of success as both a competitive rodeo cowboy and latter day Western singing star and achieved both. The 1976 World Champion Bareback Bronc Rider released modern and traditional cowboy song records for his rodeo fans from 1973-1991. When Garth Brooks, a fan of LeDoux’s exuberant live performing style mentioned him in a 1989 hit, LeDoux became a major label star on Capitol Records himself.
Born on October 2, 1948, here in Biloxi, Chris Lee LeDoux was the son of an Air Force major stationed at Keesler Air Force Base. Young Chris lived here for the first year and a half of his life and for another year at the age of twelve, which yielded the boyhood memories of fishing holes and black-eyed peas reflected in his song “Born in Mississippi.” The military family moved frequently, including a period in Texas. Having learned to ride horses on his grandparents’ Michigan farm, LeDoux focused on competitive rodeo riding as a career by the age of fourteen, and began playing guitar and writing songs as a sideline while in high school in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was developing his talent as a sculptor in college in Wyoming and New Mexico when he left school to compete riding bareback full-time. He would compete in some 80 rodeos a year, and go on to become the world championship of bareback bronc riding in 1976.
In 1972, in part as a way to cover rodeo entry expenses, LeDoux formed the independent country music record label American Cowboy Songs with his dad Al, who was now retired, and relocated to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, near Nashville. Al and Chris’s mother Bonnie effectively ran the record company, shipping out to his rodeo fans the tapes of songs he wrote and recorded, songs that reflected the rodeo cowboy life, and promoting him as “The Singin’ Bronc Rider.” Chris married Peggy Rhoads of Kaycee, Wyoming, that same year; they would raise five children at their Kaycee home base. While competing in rodeo, LeDoux would sell some four million dollars worth of 22 albums he described as encompassing “Western soul, sagebrush blues, cowboy folk and rodeo rock ‘n’ roll,” enough so that when he retired from the rodeo circuit in 1980, he was able to re-focus on performing his music, his energetic, bold live shows making him a Western cult figure.
In 1989, he came to national attention when emerging country megastar Garth Brooks referred to playing a “beat up Chris LeDoux record” in his hit “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” He then signed with a record company, the Liberty label at Capitol Records, and had a Top Ten National Hit, in 1992, a Grammy-nominated duet with Brooks, “Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy.” Chris LeDoux can be credited with reviving the Western end of what had been “Country & Western” and setting the stage for more explosive, visual country arena shows in the musical career that spanned the rest of his life, which was shortened by liver disease. LeDoux died in March 2005, and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and awarded the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award posthumously later that year.
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