Chris LeDoux

Bareback rider turned country singer with edge
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Christopher LeDoux, musician and rodeo rider: born Biloxi, Mississippi 2 October 1948; married 1972 Peggy Rhoads (four sons, one daughter); died Casper, Wyoming 9 March 2005.

Chris Ledoux was a rodeo rider turned country singer who became an iconic figure to a younger generation of musicians including Mark Chesnutt, Toby Keith and, especially, Garth Brooks.

A dynamic live performer, he recorded over 30 albums. Each reflected his love for what he described as the "real cowboy" way of life and each was invested with an attitude and edge that ensured that it shared little in common with more traditional offerings within the genre. "I've been banging this triangle between western, country and rock'n'roll my whole life," he once remarked. "The constant is that, hopefully, it all rings true."

He was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1948. His grandfather, a retired cavalry sergeant who had fought against Pancho Villa, encouraged his interest in the rodeo and he began to compete whilst still in his teens. He turned professional in 1970 and, in 1976, became World Champion Bareback Rider. Increasingly drawn to music as a creative outlet, and starting with Songs of Rodeo Life (1971), he began to record a series of albums which he released on his own American Cowboy Songs label.

In 1980 he retired from riding to concentrate on music. His electrifying live shows developed a cult following and, in time, proved a pivotal influence on the country superstar Garth Brooks, who has readily acknowledged the debt he owes to LeDoux. It was, in fact, the advocacy of Brooks, who name-checked him on his hit "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" (1989), that led to the veteran performer's deal with Capitol Records in 1991. LeDoux later remembered:

For all the years that I'd been making records, I kinda wondered if I'd really been touching anybody with what I'm doing, and I guess that kind of put the exclamation point on it. Said, yeah, you've done something worthwhile.

His first album for his new label, Western Underground (1991), yielded a handful of minor hits and was followed, a year later, by Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy. The title track, a duet with Brooks, became his biggest hit. In addition, Capitol reissued each of the 22 albums he had recorded as an independent.

Albums such as Under This Old Hat (1993), Haywire (1994) and Stampede (1996) were critically acclaimed and, in time, he sold over five million discs. His willingness to look beyond country music for source material - his fine cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher than the Rest" (1994) - and musical partners - his duet with Jon Bon Jovi, "Bang a Drum", on the album One Road Man (1999) - helped to develop his fan base.

In 2000 he was diagnosed with a rare liver condition and had to undergo a transplant. Within six months he was back touring and by 2002 he had another critical success, After the Storm, under his belt. He released a final album, Horsepower, last year.

Paul Wadey