What I’m going to tell you is a cowboy story, indeed, the story of one particular cowboy, who split his life between family, saddles and guitars. A cowboy who has always followed a code of life, simple but precise, where country, work, honesty, love and respect for others are serious and indispensable concepts. A cowboy, who, through hundreds of songs, spoke of a world, that of the North American West, which is slowly fading away, giving space to a modern one. A cowboy, who, no longer with us, will live on through his music, every time someone will play it. A cowboy who became a star, but probably would simply want to be remembered as one of many cowboys of the prairie. The story I am about to tell is the life of Chris Ledoux.
Despite having chosen the State of Wyoming as his home, Chris Ledoux was born in Biloxi, Mississippi on October 2, 1948. The son of an American soldier, he is forced to move frequently with his family to pursue his father, first in Michigan where he learned to ride on his grandfather’s farm and then in Texas, in Denison, where, at the age of 13,he participated (and won) the his first rodeo. Having moved to Cheyenne in Wyoming, Chris went to Cheyenne Central High School, and in the meantime, continued winning in various rodeos. His specialty was bareback riding and shortly after he became National champion in the junior category. In 1970, the great leap forward of quality, he becomes a professional rodeo cowboy and enters the national circuit that leads him to travel through the States, far and wide. To help himself economically, and also, to overcome the loneliness that torments every rodeo cowboy between performances, Chris begins writing songs, and with his father, founded his own label; the American Cowboy Songs. However, it is not a major record label based in Nashville. The office is set up in the truck that LeDoux used to follow the rodeo circuit, The office is located in the back of the same truck and clients are spectators crossing the parking lot going to watch the rodeos. So, Chris is a professional cowboy who, on the side, to make some extra cash, sells his records directly to the public, before saddling up. In 1972 he marries Peggy Rhoades with whom he has five children and in 1976, at the National Final Rodeo in Oklahoma City is crowned Bareback Riding World Champion. Being World Champion, even his career as a musician gets a boost, but small time, seeing that he is only known to those who attend rodeos. In 1980, after yet another “work accident” he retires from competitions and buys a ranch in Kaycee WY, where he devotes himself to his family and cattle breeding. However, he continues writing songs, and sold over 200,000 records without using publicity through radio and television, some record labels are trying to sign him, but Chris hesitates to sign a real record contract. Firstly, he wants to continue to be master of his own music ,and secondly,he feels that he needs to wait for the right opportunity. This arrives in 1989 thanks to rising star of country music, Garth Brooks, who releases the single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” Garth Brooks’ career is on the rise and every new song is eagerly awaited by millions of fans in all of the States. In Much Too Young (which jumps to the top of the Billboard charts in a few days) Garth sings “worm out tapes of Chris Ledoux” and immediately triggers an uproar. Who is this Chris Ledoux, who has among his fans, even Garth Brooks? Capitol, one of the most important global majors (and label of Garth Brooks through Liberty) calls him and convinces him to sign a proper contract. In 1991, Western Underground is released and is a worldwide success. The following year, Chris Ledoux records Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy which went gold in just a few weeks. The title track is a duet with Garth Brooks with whom a lifelong friendship starts. Ledoux is a country music star, but the bright lights of success do not go to his head. He doesn’t come to compromises just to sell albums. He continues singing about his world of spurs, stampedes, lonely cowboys, horses and dusty rodeos. He speaks of the beauties of the West and in particular of Wyoming and even convinces the people at Capitol to republish on CD all his old records that he sold in the back of the truck back in the days of the rodeos. This move, from the economic point of view, seems very risky but the public welcomes these albums with an incredible enthusiasm. Accompanied by his band, called Western Underground, he plays “sold out” all over the country and in 2000 published “Cowboy” a disc that has a title that sounds almost like a confirmation. During the same year began the health problems. First of all, he needs a liver transplant, and thanks to a donor, he overcomes the crisis. Two more discs are recorded, but in 2004 he was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer and in March 2005, following complications,Chris Ledoux dies at the Hospital in Casper Wyoming at the age 56. The man dies, but not his spirit nor his music. Many albums remain, frescos of a rare beauty on the world of the modern West. Hundreds of songs remain, sung with that rough voice like raw hide but profound like a poem. A band remains, Western Underground, which has picked up the baton and carries out the same musical ideas. Affection remains, friends and a statue in a park in Kaycee, which pays homage to this character and, moreover, the figure of the greatest hero in American history: the cowboy of the prairies with no boundries (Gianluca Sitta)