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Thursday, 03/10/05

Singer, rodeo champ Chris LeDoux dies

Music inspired other country performers

Rodeo champion turned country singer Chris LeDoux, whose music inspired performers including country superstar Garth Brooks, died yesterday morning in Casper, Wyo.

Mr. LeDoux was 56. He had checked into the Casper Medical Center earlier in the week after complications from the ongoing treatments for cancer of the bile duct.

From the time he turned pro in 1970, Mr. LeDoux earned fame on the rodeo circuit. That fame came not only from his riding and roping expertise, but also from the tapes he would sell out of his pickup truck at rodeo events. Those tapes, recorded on the Mississippi native's own American Cowboy Songs label, were filled with original compositions that documented the rodeo experience.

''It's kind of an underground movement that started years ago,'' he told The Tennessean, speaking of his rodeo-themed tapes. ''It has gradually built into this underground fan base.''

Mr. LeDoux became the World Champion Bareback Bronc Rider in 1976, and he looked to be building a legacy as a cowboy rather than as a singer. But his music became a staple on the rodeo circuit, so much so that upstart singer Brooks name-checked him in the hit song Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) in 1989:

''A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux/ Lonely women and bad booze/ Seem to be the only friends I've left at all,'' Brooks sang in his tale of a lonely cowboy.

Mr. LeDoux's rodeo songs weren't the only thing to make an impression on Brooks, who told The Tennessean in 1997 that ''anyone who has seen Chris LeDoux knows where I get my approach to live performance.''

Brooks' love of Mr. LeDoux's music led to a 1990 offer from Capitol Records for the former bronc rider. Mr. LeDoux already had recorded 22 albums on his own, but the major label affiliation brought him to the attention of fans who had never been to a rodeo.

He scored his only top 10 hit in 1992 with a Brooks duet called Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy. Mr. LeDoux went on to write songs with Toby Keith, and Charlie Daniels composed a song in Mr. LeDoux's honor called Sing Me A Song Mr. Rodeo Man.

''To describe him as a person, he was quiet and very friendly,'' said country singer Mark Chesnutt, who played shows with LeDoux back in the mid-1990s. ''He didn't go to the bus after shows. He'd walk around the grounds and hang out with the cowboys or the other players and artists and visit. He was a quiet country cowboy. On the flip side, as an entertainer, Chris LeDoux put on one of the best shows I've ever seen in my lifetime.''

In 2000, Mr. LeDoux was diagnosed with a liver disease and underwent a liver transplant. He began touring again within six months after the surgery and released the critically acclaimed After The Storm in 2002. In late 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer and began radiation treatment.

Mr. LeDoux's songs dealt with Western storylines but seldom stayed within the cowboy campfire folk tradition.

''I've been banging this triangle between western, country and rock 'n' roll my whole life,'' he said in a record company bio. ''The constant is that, hopefully, it all rings true.''

Capitol Nashville President and CEO Mike Dungan responded to Mr. LeDoux's passing by saying, ''In a world of egos and sound-alikes, he was a unique artist and a wonderful man. We have always been proud to represent his music and honored to call him our friend. Our thoughts go out to his wife, Peggy, and the LeDoux family.''

In addition to his wife, he is survived by five children.



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