What 'Cho Gonna Do With a Cowboy...
Those of you who know me, know that I’m into Rock and Roll, not country. You also know that I like to follow the LDS music scene. But if you’ll let me take a moment, I’m going to diverge from both of those paths to pay tribute to a fellow singer/songwriter.
Many years ago, when I was first married and trying to squeeze my foot in the door of the SLC music scene, I was hanging out a lot at a studio called Suite Sound. One day, there was a cowboy in doing some country recording. When I say, “cowboy”, I mean “cowboy”. Not one of these pop city guys who sing country songs but are really vegetarians, I mean a real, belt-buckle wearing, rodeo-winning cowboy.
I got to sit in and watch the sessions. I’ve never really been “into” country, but I’ve always respected artists of all styles. And I was hot to learn as much about studio recording as I could, so I liked to haunt sessions.
At one point, I got introduced. His name was Chris LeDoux. Throughout the session, he was kind and gracious to all of us. The engineers, his band, the hired gun musicians… I was just constantly amazed how sincerely nice he was.
Well, I stored that experience in the back of my head. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to record lots of people, and run live sound for lots of people, some even famous. Many have been kind, many rude. Few so genuine and helpful as Chris was to an insignificant little studio rat like me. Since then I’ve tried to live by his professional example.
A few years later, Garth Brooks mentioned him in a song, lamenting the life of a rodeo cowboy. “…A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze, seem to be the only things (I’ve left at all)…” And suddenly Chris’ career went from playing rodeos and state fairs to major label deals and big concerts.
Anyway. I found out a week or two ago that he recently died of liver cancer. I posted a short note telling my story on the email group where I first heard the news. Not long after that, I got an email, privately responding to my note. With permission, I include it here:
“Your e-mail about Chris was forwarded to me. I just wanted to let you know that you are exactly right. Chris was a true American treasure, as an NFR Champion, a singer/songwriter and as a man.
“In 1987 I was writing songs for Ed Bruce's publishing company on music row. A quiet-spoken cowboy that I didn't know walked in one afternoon and announced that Ed had sent him over, ‘... to look for cowboy songs.’ Being the smart-Aleck that I am, I sarcastically said, ‘You don't see many cowboys these days...since the Urban Cowboy thing.’ He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘They're still out there. You just can't see 'em from the road.’ In addition to being a smart- Aleck, I'm a fairly perceptive fellow and I recognized a major-league song title when I heard it.
"Two weeks later Ed Bruce and I began penning the song idea, so innocently given to me by the stranger. A year and a half later we finished it. In early 1992 I got a call from Ed. He said that he had gotten our song cut. I asked him, ‘Who in the world recorded that thing?’ He said, ‘Chris LeDoux.’ (By this time, Garth had made a hit out of, ‘A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze...’) It suddenly hit me. I said, ‘Ed, is Chris a friend of yours and did you send him by the office a few years ago to see if we had any cowboy songs?’ Well, I guess you know the answer. In 1991, Liberty/Capitol Records sent Chris out to Ed's to write songs for his debut label album, ‘Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy?’ He saw the lyric to, ‘...See Him From the Road,’ (that I had a calligrapher put to parchment) which was hanging on Ed's den wall. He asked about it, Ed played it for him and thank the Good Lord, Chris LeDoux recorded, ‘You Just Can't See Him From The Road.’ (He released a live version a few years later on, ‘Chris LeDoux - Live.’)
“I saw Chris at the gold record party in Nashville in 1993. I thanked him for, ‘...getting me out of the day job,’ and he laughed, ‘You must have had a pretty low payin' job!’ I saw him again in July of 2001 in Spearfish, SD. He was less than a year out of the hospital, carrying someone else's liver around in his body and full of anti-rejection drugs. He looked tired and when I asked him how he was doing he smiled big and said, ‘Great!’ (What else would you expect America's Cowboy to say?) I fully expected to see him sit on a bar stool that night with the acoustic and sing some of the more, ‘tame songs.’ I was wrong. They said his name, the lights went up, flash pots went off and he dove off of the drum riser. An hour later (after riding the mechanical bull, by the way) he left the whole place on their collective feet, screaming for more...a 52 year old man with teenaged girls screaming for him! (I never had teenaged girls screaming for me when I was a teenager!)
“I didn't know him very well, yet I knew everything about him...everything that matters, that is. We are all brothers (and sisters), all of us who are compelled to write and sing about cowboys and the West. We will all be together again, someday. God be with the LeDoux family and thank you Chris, for making an unknown songwriter very proud.”
So anyway, for what it’s worth, I’m paying him a little tribute in my blog.