Western Underground to play Friday at Ghost Ranch
June 13, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Mark Sissel only recalls one incident in which champion bronc rider and country star Chris LeDoux came close to losing his temper.
It was 1989, the year LeDoux first hired the band Western Underground, which features Sissel on guitar, to tour with him.
The place was a small club in Steamboat Springs, where Sissel recalled a young man dancing provocatively with a girl.
With his wife and children in the room, LeDoux handed off his guitar and grabbed the dirty dancer, ready to take matters into his own hands before the man apologized and the show went on.
Although Sissel never saw LeDoux do anything else like that in the 16 succeeding years he spent on tour with him, Sissel said defending the honor of his family and his Western values was exactly what LeDoux was all about.
Remembered for his strong morality and a humble nature verging on shyness, LeDoux epitomized living the Western cowboy dream, Sissel said. And it showed in his classic country hits like "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy" and "Tougher than the Rest."
"If you see a country singer in a cowboy hat, you don't know if he's a cowboy," Sissel said in a Wednesday interview with Explore Steamboat. "Generally, they're not. This guy was a true cowboy; he was a troubadour. He wrote about a lifestyle he lived."
Although LeDoux died in 2005, those values live on through his music via Western Underground, which passes through Steamboat on Friday with a show at Ghost Ranch. The show costs $10 and will feature a five-piece version of the sextet with Chris' son, Ned LeDoux, on drums.
The band is rounded out by Lane Turner on lead vocals, Robert Jensen on keyboards and David Lyle Evans on bass.
For Sissel, going back on tour with Western Underground after LeDoux's death was part of a healing process. It was healing to play the music, and Sissel found it was comforting to his loyal fans, as well.
With a few original songs mixed in, Sissel and the band continue to carry on the core values of the cowboy lifestyle epitomized by LeDoux.
"I've never met anyone like him," Sissel said. "Set aside my father and my respect to him, I don't respect any human more than I respect Chris LeDoux. That man was as morally strong as any man I'd ever met."
A bareback bronc rider on the rodeo circuit, the Wyoming-based LeDoux was selling his CDs out of a truck to help fund his rodeo career, Sissel said. He won the world championship for bareback riding in 1976 before retiring in 1980.
When he hired Western Underground in 1989, their first album together was LeDoux's 22nd. He was signed to Capitol Records in 1991.
"When I first started with him, I remember playing a play in Salt Lake in a place that held about 1,500 people, and there were 2,500 people there. I thought to myself, 'Who is this guy? This like a cowboy Bon Jovi? What's going on?'"
LeDoux was the kind of frontman who had his band mates get on a bucking machine to get a feel for the rodeo. And even after he started golfing, he wore his Carhartts on the green.
When Sissel wrote his own songs, it was LeDoux who inspired him.
He wrote about how "fortunate I was to be able to run down the road with this guy, who was like the king of Wyoming. It was like being with the best of John Wayne in the best of times."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com