It has been more than 10 years since country music said goodbye to cowboy country star Chris LeDoux. The world champion bareback rider, who funded his rodeo habit by writing songs, was a monster influence on artists like Garth Brooks, who later became a good friend. In fact, when Chris needed a liver transplant, Garth tearfully offered to donate. Unfortunately, he was incompatible, and although an alternate donor was found, we lost Chris five years later.
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But Garth isn’t the only artist that Chris influenced with his high-octane shows and cleverly crafted songs. In fact, an entirely new generation of cowboy country singers tips their hats to the Grammy-nominated icon.
Of course, Chris’ son, Ned LeDoux, was hugely affected by his father’s music. Ned’s 2017 album, “Sagebrush,” is filled with themes of cowboy life, and the west and the amped-up version of country that his dad was known for. And if you close your eyes, Ned’s voice is hauntingly familiar.
But it doesn’t take being related to Chris to want to carry on that tradition. Heck, Cody Johnson admits he never even met the man, but Chris still had a major impact on the Huntsville, Texas, singer and former bull rider.
“I didn’t know the man, I just know that he influenced me, because I was rodeoing, riding up and down the roads listening to ‘When your mama finds it hard to understand why her lovin’ son wants to be a rodeo man’,” Cody tells Rare Country.
He pauses, then adds, “There will never be another Chris LeDoux.”
No, there won’t, but thanks to artists like Cody, Ned and their cowboy country singing peers Aaron Watson, Jon Pardi, Casey Donahew, Trent Willmon and Red Shahan, the tradition continues.
By commercial measures and by radio trends, that brand of country may not seem to be all that popular, at least not in Nashville where Texas-based and traditional country artists are more often than not held at arm’s length. Get outside of Music City, though, and turn on the radio and Cody’s “Wild As You,” Aaron’s “Outta Style” and Jon’s “She Ain’t In It” blast through your speakers right next to Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line.
“In the grand scheme of things, cowboys aren’t as cool as they once were,” Cody says. “The cowboy hat is not as prevalent. If anything, it’s almost been bastardized a little bit. I didn’t start wearing boots, and a buckle and a hat to try to get a music career. I wanted to be like my cowboy heroes, like Chris LeDoux or Tuff Hedeman or Red Steagall. Trevor Brazile is the king.”
Cody still sits down with his rodeo heroes-turned-friends when he performs at National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas every year, and now they’re listening to his songs the way he listened to Chris’ music. “That means a lot to know that the greatest cowboy that there’s ever been is rolling down the road listening to my music. That means a lot to me because he’s living my dream,” he says with a smile.
So, how was Cody’s rodeo career? Much like every bull rider’s, sometimes you last eight seconds, and sometimes you don’t, but the adrenaline rush is unparalleled. The Texas boy even admits that he once walked out of the arena on a broken leg.
But he has no regrets. “Much like the song, ‘Every Scar Has a Story,’ the worst ones are on your heart,” he says. “If I had applied myself to rodeo the way that I did my music, I’d probably still be riding, and I’m thankful that I’m not just because I’m thankful for where I’m at.”
“Every Scar has a Story,” along with his hit singles, “With You I Am” and “Wild As You,” are from Cody’s appropriately-titled 2016 album, “Gotta Be Me.”
Cody made his debut at Rodeo Houston accidentally last year when Old Dominion was unable to make the date due to a death in the band family. Cody mentioned that he was available and already in Texas, and fans made their desires abundantly clear. The red-headed cowboy stepped up and delivered a headlining show that left the audience wanting more.
He’s back this year, on Saturday, March 10.
This time, it’s on purpose.