He made his living in the hardscrabble realm of the rodeo cowboy. He became known later for his blow-the-doors-off, foot-stomping live concerts. But when he started putting together his latest album, After The Storm, following a life-changing event, Chris LeDoux thought, "why not just do something a little more on the gentle side. "
Though the songs cover a full range of styles and emotions, a strong feeling of contentment comes through almost all of them. LeDoux began this album after his recovery from a serious health crisis. Diagnosed in the summer of 2000 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that can lead to liver failure, the fit and active cowboy found himself weakened and facing a fight for his life. The news got worse when doctors told him he had to have a liver transplant as soon as possible. In October 2000, a match came through and he went through transplant surgery. Obviously the experience give him a new perspective.
"I always was one who didn't take things for granted," he says. "But I think I do appreciate things more now. The small moments of joy that we find each day are so much more precious now than when I looked at them before."
LeDoux's music has always reflected the events of his life, and so those small moments of joy can be found on After The Storm, alongside some deeper emotions. "This album's a little different from the past," he says, " a little more relationship-oriented, a little more thoughtful, reflective and yeah, I'm pleased with the way it turned out."
Once again, LeDoux teamed up with producers Mac MacAnally and Alan Schulman, who worked with him on his previous album, Cowboy. On that record, LeDoux re-recorded some of his earliest songs, offering an autobiographical sketch that touched on his love for his wife and children, the bumps and hurts of a rodeo cowboy and the triumphs and cameraderie of that life. Though he didn't write the songs on After The Storm, the stories they tell suit his current situation perfectly.
"These songs feel personal," he says. "They sort of hit things on the head. It's been hard for me in the past to find material that I felt good about, but this record is probably as easy as anything I've ever done."
His gratitude for the unswerving love and support of his wife, Peg, are given voice in songs like "Millionaire," "I Would For You," and "Daily Bread," all straightforward acknowledgments of the value of long-lasting love. "Bareback Jack," the first rodeo song that LeDoux ever wrote and a fan favorite in his live show, heartily relates the tale of a young cowboy declaring his intention to compete in the rodeo as a bareback rider. "Simple as Dirt," is an ode to the daily chores of running a farm. "Anything to do with the land, I love," LeDoux says. "There's a great line in that song, 'It's as easy as a hard day's work.' Sometimes a hard day's work is easier than a lot of things you can meet in life."
"Some Things Never Change," is an appreciative nod to the hard work of ranching, thankful for the routines that stay constant in an ever-changing world. LeDoux duets with longtime friend Garth Brooks, who is also the songwriter. "I've had this song in a drawer for a long time, maybe seven or eight years. Every time I'd do an album, I'd take it out and listen to it, and always liked what it had to say. Plus when Garth came in and sang on it, that made it really special."
After his surgery, LeDoux let it be known to his fan club members that Brooks had offered to donate a portion of his own liver for the transplant, and went through the necessary testing, but wasn't a match. "I don't know how to describe my reaction," LeDoux says now. "Shock. Deep gratitude. Out of the blue he called up and said,'there's no sense looking any further, I'm you're guy.' So what do you say to that? He said, 'Let's go do this. Send out for pizza and let's get this done.'"
The bond between the two goes back to Brook's first album, where in the song "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" he mentions "a worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux." At the time, LeDoux was well-known among the rodeo crowd for his Western-themed songs and rowdy concerts. He started playing music while he competed in rodeos, writing about his life on the circuit. His songs captured the romance, the freedom, the dirt and the hurt of rodeo and drew fans who demanded tapes of his songs. LeDoux recorded 22 albums on his own.
After Brooks brought him to the attention of the mainstream country music world, LeDoux signed with Capitol Records, joining his new friend on the song "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy?" which became a Top Ten hit and received a Grammy nomination. The album it appears on, also called Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy? Was certified gold in 1993. The Best of Chris LeDoux was certified gold in 1997, and 20 Greatest Hits went gold in 2001. Since signing with Capitol, LeDoux has released 12 albums, and sold nearly six million records.
Fans respond to the truth of LeDoux's music. And maybe the most significant song on After The Storm, an often serious, reflective body of work, is the joyful "Don't It Make You Want to Dance." Not rowdy. Not introspective. Not romantic. It just smiles and enjoys life.
"I'm healed up and I feel great," LeDoux says when talking about the song. "After going through the fire, it's great to see everybody again - to be out performing again. "