By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily
“Take me back to old Wyoming, I’ve been away too long. I want to hear the meadowlark singing this cowboy’s favorite song. I want to saddle up old paint and just ride him out across the hills. I belong in old Wyoming and I reckon that I always will.” – Lyrics by the late Chris LeDoux.
On March 9, 2005, Wyoming lost one of its favorite sons when singer and rodeo star Chris LeDoux died from complications of liver cancer at the age of 56.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal proclaimed the next Saturday as “Chris LeDoux Day,” as a way for Wyomingites to celebrate his life and honor his achievements. “Chris LeDoux has meant a lot to Wyoming, from his earliest days of riding bareback to his later days of making music,” Gov. Freudenthal said. “Cheyenne Frontier Days, when fans of both would gather, seems like an appropriate time to honor his memory.” His proclamation also contains the line: “Whereas, Chris LeDoux was a cowboy in the truest and best sense of the word.” Couldn’t say it much better than that.
LeDoux had a love of Wyoming that came through his singing and his actions. A champion rodeo cowboy, he worked just as hard becoming an entertainer as he did to be a champion rodeo athlete.
Former Wyoming Tourism Director Gene Bryan has fond memories of Chris from his many years of involvement with Cheyenne Frontier Days:
“I first remember Chris when he played defensive end for the
Cheyenne Central football teams, coached by former coach Jim McLeod. I first met Chris when I was exec for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee and he was pedaling his 8-track tapes out of a booth at Frontier Park.
“He would call me and the question was always the same, ‘Gene, what do I have to do to perform at the Night Show?’ and my response was always the same: ‘Get famous.’ Well, he did (boy, howdy, did he!). I think another Acts Chairman John Tabor, who was a close friend of Chris’, would echo the statement that he was the most popular entertainer to perform at the CFD concerts, even more than the star who helped launch him, Garth Brooks.
“He was a cowboy’s cowboy–always polite, always a gentleman. He never forgot his roots. He’s gone, but I can guarantee he won’t be forgotten. Terrible loss to the Cowboy State without question.”
LeDoux personified the “Wyoming way,” in both his actions and his lifestyle. He lived by a handshake and felt a commitment was a commitment.
Bill Lewkowitz of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort recalls the late singer fondly. “Many people at our resort learned what many cowboys across the country and many people in Wyoming already knew — that Chris was a great musician, performer and just a really nice guy! We invited him back to play a concert to help celebrate our 30th anniversary of the resort and he played to a very enthusiastic audience.
“Chris played both of these concerts for much less money than he was being paid at the time, but did the concerts for less to help a Wyoming neighbor with their events. Chris brought his family back to ski several times. He never wore a fancy ski suit, just a Carhartt one-piece work suit, that as he told me was suited for any winter chore from birthing calves to skiing in Jackson Hole.
“After struggling along with his record label in Nashville to get permission to use Chris’s music for a promotional video, we finally got hold of him directly and he granted us permission to several of his songs. As long as we were working on a project that helped promote the great state of Wyoming, using his music was fine by him.
“I also worked with Chris at the Teton County Fair. A concert that Chris was scheduled to perform one July was rained out due to a powerful thunderstorm, but Chris did everything in his power to get the show complete. The weather never did cooperate, but Chris let us know he wanted to come back to play again. Our entire local rodeo crowd, of course, loves his music and people travel from all over the state to listen to him. Interestingly, Chris’ band played the Rancher Bar in Jackson back in the early 1980s.”
Chris LeDoux loved Wyoming and had a great way of writing about and singing about his home state. Here are some lyrics from one of his songs:
“You ain’t lived until you’ve watched those Northern Lights, sat around the campfire and hear the coyotes call at night. Makes you feel alright, so guess I’ll stay right where I’m at, wear my boots and my cowboy hat. But I’ll come and see ya once in a while. I gotta be where I can see those Rocky Mountains, ride my horse and watch an eagle fly. I gotta live my life and write my songs beneath these Western Skies. When I die you can bury me beneath these Western Skies, Yippee.”