Taking the Reins

It’s only fitting Ned LeDoux would return to the same Riverside stage where his dad Chris LeDoux unleashed his inner wild man year after year. The “rodeo rock and roller” was a fixture in town for years, usually around the time rodeos were annual events here, too. It was a natural fit because LeDoux was one of them. He traded in his life as a bronc rider (for the most part) for one with less injuries but different pitfalls when he strapped on a guitar, wrote and recorded his own songs, and sold them out of his car at rodeos everywhere.
It was a line in a Garth Brooks song about a “worn out tape of Chris LeDoux” that changed everything. Soon a lot more people than those associated with the sport knew his name and his music.
He’d already created something of a cult following when Brooks mentioned him in the song, and then LeDoux’s career took off. That “rodeo rock ‘n roll” genre came from his life on the road. His songs went to the top of the charts, and his shows were recreations of the excitement of his rodeo days. He’d ride a mechanical bucking bull amidst pyrotechnics and guitar riffs, and the crowds couldn’t get enough.
All that came to an end when LeDoux died in 2005, at the age of 56.
Since that time, his son, Ned, has taken up the mantle, to finish what his old man started. It wasn’t what he set out to do at all, but a few years ago LeDoux and his father’s band, Western Underground, conducted an experiment to see if people were still interested in his father’s music. They played a few select dates with LeDoux playing drums in the background, something he had done in his dad’s band for years. We at the Laughlin entertainer took in one of those shows in Don’s Celebrity Theatre several years ago. During the show, LeDoux would only come out from behind the drums to perform one of his father’s songs and that was about it.
How times have changed since then. People were not only interested in his father’s music, they wanted to see what the younger LeDoux would do with it. Well, last fall when he was in town opening for Toby Keith, he had just finished and released his first full-length album, Sagebrush, so fans got a taste of what he did with it.
The album is doing well, the crowds are getting bigger and Ned couldn’t be more pleased.
“We’re staying busy and we’ve got a really busy schedule coming up,” he said. “I’ve got that new record out, my first full-length album came out in November, so it’s doing pretty good. I’m pretty happy with the way things are.”
He’s not quite ready to think about another album as yet, but new songs are always in the works.
“The first album, it just learned how to fly, but I am working on some new material. I have a new single out called ‘Brother Highway,’ and it’s a single I wrote,” he said. “I think most artists will always tell you they’re working on new stuff and I am, but we’re just real tickled to be staying as busy as we are and definitely looking forward to coming to Laughlin.”
He’s come a long way from those first few trips behind the drums to front and center stage to sing. While this isn’t LeDoux’s first rodeo at the Riverside, it is the first time with his own show.
“It has been a long time ago, but that’s kind of how I got started, making that transition from being a drummer to stepping out in front,” LeDoux said. “If you’d asked me five years ago if I’d be doing what I’m doing now, I would have said you’re crazy. I’ve only ever wanted to be a drummer so it was just a slow transition. I’m not sure how it happened, but I just got to really enjoying singing and playing the guitar.
“I started playing solo gigs, I’d just pick up dates here and there, places that nobody really knew about, and started doing that stuff. Then some of these places asked if I had a band, and I said, ‘No.’ They’d say ‘Well if you could get a band together, we’d love to have you in this bigger place.’ At that time, Western Underground wasn’t played any more. We played our last show — as Western Underground — at the sixth annual Chris LeDoux Days here in Kaycee, Wyoming. Then, that was it, we weren’t staying all that busy the last five or six years.
“I got to talking with a few of the guys and suggested we come out as a test run, and it worked out great. I’ve still got Mark Sissel (guitar), K.W. Turnbow (drums), two founding members of Western Underground, and the guy who was singing with them for five or six years, Lane Turner, who’s now playing bass. Then we brought in a pedal steel player from Royse City, Texas, and his name is David Crash. It’s a pretty tight knit group — the guys worked out good.”
LeDoux’s album is a mix of both his self-penned songs and some his dad didn’t get to finish.
“Just to have a full-length album with 12 tracks, I never thought I’d do anything like this but I gotta give a big thanks to Mac McAnally,” he said. “He’s the one who really got me into writing songs. First song I was ever a part of is a song called, “We Ain’t Got it All,” it came from just a few lines Dad wrote down and then me and Mac joined up and we kind of finished the song. Then from there I just started writing my own stuff and one thing lead to another and here we are with a full-length album. Mac has been like a mentor for me.”
He keeps an interesting balance between paying tribute to his dad while being true to himself in both the music and the show.
“It’s the only way to be, the best way to be, is yourself,” he said. “I can’t be out there trying to be somebody I’m not. And I’m a terrible pretender, so when it comes to writing songs and putting on a show, that’s just my own deal, but I definitely learned from one of the best. I got to play drums for Dad for a number of years, so I sat front and center to see the best in action. I’ll just keep on going through, doing what I do, you know.”
The fans seem to embrace LeDoux’s own evolution while maintaining that bridge to his father’s music.
“It might just be perfect timing is what some people have said,” he added. “There’s always going to be a void there, and I want people to hear what I’ve been releasing, but also for the next generation coming up who doesn’t really know what Chris LeDoux did. I talked to some younger kids at a show recently and they’d say, ‘I didn’t know he sang that song or this song.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I’m doing this to kind of keep his music live and introduce that stuff to them.’ That’s the great thing about music — it’ll live on forever.”
As far as the Laughlin show, LeDoux doesn’t really play by any rules when it comes to the music.
“We try to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “When I put this thing together, we used to play kind of the same setlist every night with Western Underground. We didn’t really change it up too much. When I took this on, I just started from scratch. I said, ‘We’re gonna take a bunch of songs out, I’m gonna bring some of the old stuff back,’ so we’re doing a lot of old songs Dad wrote and recorded way before he had a record deal, back when he was still selling stuff out of the back of Rodeo Rose.
“So people can definitely look forward to hearing some of the old songs,” he added. “There’s a split down the middle of my stuff and Dad’s stuff, but we try to keep everybody happy.
“I’ve been playing music for a long time, I think I got my first band at, what, 15…and I never really looked back. I was just like, ‘Shoot, this is too much fun to just do it part time,'” he laughs. “I played all over the state of Wyoming in a bunch of different bands, and eventually got to play drums for Dad and the Western Underground. So it’s been a pretty good ride so far and I’m not ready to get off yet.”
For more about LeDoux, his music and his tour dates, check out his website at NedLedoux.com.


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Thursday-Saturday, June 21-23 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets