Chris LeDoux’s Legacy Lives on in Son Ned LeDoux + New Retrospective
Mark Sissel had a front-row seat to Chris LeDoux's rise to national prominence, as the singer-songwriter and rodeo star's tour manager and guitar player for just over a decade and a half. When he draws comparisons between the elder LeDoux and his son, singer and songwriter Ned LeDoux, he's doing so from a wealth of experiences on the road, in the studio and as a friend.
"They're both so similar ... I stood off of Chris' right shoulder for 16 years, and now I do the same for Ned, and just watching those two ...," says Sissel, trailing off. He's an original member of Western Underground, Chris LeDoux's final backing band that used to include Ned LeDoux on drums and now back him just as they did his dad.
"He was just that continuation — that next generation — of what I consider the LeDoux brand," Sissel adds of the younger LeDoux. "He's been himself from the beginning and never really had to think one way or the other about it ... and that just carried on a very cool form of music that, I think, is nice, pure, honest and straightforward."
It wasn't their plan, necessarily; in fact, Sissel admits, it happened that way by accident. After Chris LeDoux died of bile duct cancer in March of 2005, at the age of 56, Western Underground decided they'd do a few shows in his honor. "Then we did that record [2007's Unbridled], then we kind of find out that Ned is back there playing some acoustic guitar, learning some songs, going out and doing some solo dates," Sissel recalls.
"And then," Sissel adds, "he eventually steps up and just takes over that role."
On Friday (July 23), Ned LeDoux, Sissel and the rest of Western Underground will be in Cheyenne, Wyo., to further honor Chris LeDoux: Ned will help dedicate a bronze statue of his father — a 2003 Cheyenne Frontier Days and Old West Museum Hall of Fame inductee who is the subject of a similar statue in his hometown of Kaycee, Wyo. — on the event grounds. That evening, the band will open Garth Brooks' CFD 2021 concert.
"Playing Cheyenne Frontier Days for Dad was huge, and it's just as big for me ...," says Ned LeDoux, who recalls a story about his father comparing the multi-day rodeo and concert event to the Grand Ole Opry in terms of significance. Chris LeDoux both performed and participated in the rodeo events at Cheyenne Frontier Days throughout his dual careers, and Sissel remembers him being blown away at the opportunity to play the event's main stage.
"And to share the stage with Garth?" continues Ned LeDoux, who has opened for Brooks a couple of times in recent years. "Man, it doesn't get better than that."
It's the latest in a long string of moments in which Chris LeDoux's career, life and legacy have overlapped with Brooks'. The stadium-touring superstar's name-drop of LeDoux in his debut single, 1989's "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)," introduced LeDoux to a wider audience, and the two remained in each other's orbit until LeDoux's death.
In 1996, for example, LeDoux was on call when Brooks was booked to play the 100th year of Cheyenne Frontier Days but was also awaiting the birth of his youngest daughter, Allie Colleen. "I think their feeling was, 'Let's see who, if Garth walked off the stage [to get to the hospital], who could walk on this stage and keep that crowd,'" Sissel explains.
LeDoux and Brooks' 1992 duet "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy" is one of 13 songs featured on the recently released Wyoming Cowboy — A Collection, a compilation, assembled by Sissel, that features well-known LeDoux songs, live cuts and rarities. Its release marks the 50th anniversary of LeDoux's debut album, Songs of Rodeo Life.
It was LeDoux's wife Peggy who came up with the album's title: "We all threw in our two cents ... but then Mom just sent a text that said, 'How about Wyoming Cowboy?'" Ned LeDoux recalls, "and it was like, that's perfect." The cover photo was shot at an old barn on the family's ranch; Chris LeDoux later tore it down and built a new one "all by himself, except for the heavy lifting," his son shares.
Also on the album is "We Ain't Got It All," a song Ned LeDoux wrote with former Chris LeDoux collaborator Mac McAnally. His father is also a credited songwriter on the track because it's based on a snippet of lyrics — "something about a rusted old pickup truck ... [and] 'We got firewood in the stack / I guess money is all we lack" — his wife had found in what Ned LeDoux calls "the box of thoughts": a box full of papers from his dad, including unfinished song ideas.
"It was pretty cool to have these ideas that Dad had written down ...," the younger LeDoux says. "He didn't have a typewriter or anything like that; it's all handwritten stuff."
Chris LeDoux's rodeo days and his music, though, only brush the surface of his legacy: "All the things that he was able to achieve and accomplish in only 56 years [would] take most people probably two or three lifetimes," Ned LeDoux reflects.
"He was also an amazing sculptor, a great artist. And he also built a barn, a couple of log cabins and all kinds of corrals and ranching structures," LeDoux continues, adding that he remembers his dad saying, above all else, he wanted to be remembered as "a great father and husband."
"And he was."
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