The singer-songwriter takes us to his favorite spots in his hometown in the Cowboy State, in his current home in Kansas’ Flint Hills, and in Music City.
Growing up with ranching roots in Wyoming, country music singer-songwriter Ned LeDoux frequently found himself around great storytellers who put their stories to music, among them his famous dad, rodeo hero and country music star Chris LeDoux. The younger LeDoux started his music career at 14, when he joined his first band, Cowtown. At 21, he joined his dad and the road band Western Underground, playing the drums. After Chris’ passing in 2005, Ned continued to gig with Western Underground; the group released Unbridled in 2007.
Not quite 10 years later, LeDoux stepped up front and became an artist in his own right and has been climbing ever since. In 2017, LeDoux released his first solo album, Sagebrush, a collection of songs that carry on the classic country Western tradition of his dad.
But Sagebrush also shows the son fully striking out on his own. “A wise man once told me that when it comes to writing songs, write about what you know,” LeDoux says. “That man was my songwriting mentor and producer Mac McAnally, who has become a very close friend.”
He says he didn’t really write Sagebrush for radio. “It’s just, there’s a lot of people out there that they just want to hear stuff they can relate to: songs about being a cowboy, working on a ranch, living in the middle of nowhere and even all the traveling,” LeDoux told Rolling Stone. From “Forever a Cowboy” to “Brother Highway,” the record aims instead at those folks, evoking and honoring the life LeDoux lives: “It was inspired by friends and family and the Western landscape. It’s a reflection of who I am and where I came from.”
We talked with LeDoux about his hometown haunts in Wyoming and Kansas, the places his music takes him, and keeping the spirit of his beloved father alive.
Cowboys & Indians: You grew up on a ranch in Kaycee, Wyoming, and traveled with your dad and his band, Western Underground, until his untimely passing. What makes that part of Wyoming so special to you?
Ned LeDoux: Kaycee hasn’t really changed that much over the years, and that is the great thing about it. The small town is located in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, and the area has great hunting and bass fishing in the local ponds and streams. A favorite place to eat in town is the Invasion Bar and Restaurant, a hometown cafe that serves great spicy green chili, and also the Country Inn, where my grandma used to work, which still serves really good home cooking.
C&I: What are some other interesting places you’ve hit in your travels?
LeDoux: I played drums for Dad for a number of years all over the country and each road trip was special. There was one hotel we had supper at a couple of times in Buffalo, Wyoming, named the Occidental, which has been totally renovated and was said to be haunted. It is a historic landmark with great food. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed there and had horses tied up out back; in case someone was at the front door looking for them, they could quickly sneak out the backdoor.
Deadwood, South Dakota, has a lot of ghost stories, too. Years back, some friends and I took a haunted-hotel tour there. I can’t recall the hotel we were in, but the tour guide brought us into a room where most people would feel a cold chill even though it’d be the middle of the summer. There was a door that no one could open, and the guide said the spirit that lived there wouldn’t let anyone in. She put the key in to unlock it, and as she turned the handle, it spun back around and locked, as if someone was on the other side determined not to let anyone in.
C&I: You and your family now live in northeast Kansas. What prompted the move from the home state you’ll always hold near and dear to your heart?
LeDoux: My wife is from Kansas. We live in the Flint Hills, which are just beautiful. The place has a lot of charm. When I’m not touring, I enjoy being at home with my wife and kids. When we have more than a couple days off, I enjoy doing some carpentry work, painting buffalo skulls, and landscaping the place.
C&I: Any don’t-miss events in the Kansas City area?
LeDoux: I used to play drums for Dustin Evans and the Good Times Band, and we got to play the American Royal [World Series of Barbecue] in Kansas City a number of times. That was a gig I always looked forward to mainly for the food. [Laughs.] Before we even got to the venue, we could smell the charcoal and wood smoke from about 5 miles out. It’s definitely an event that everyone should check out.
We asked Ned LeDoux for a playlist of songs he keeps on repeat and collected them on a playlist. Listen to his favorite tunes.
C&I: Many Western states have music festivals in the spring and summer months. Any special ones come to mind?
LeDoux: If I were to recommend a great weekend festival with good music and a bit of rodeo, it would have to be Chris LeDoux Days, taking place over Father’s Day weekend at the Chris LeDoux Memorial Park in Kaycee. We started the weekend as a dedication to Dad and will be celebrating the ninth annual festival this June. The day starts with bareback and bronc riding at the rodeo grounds. Then the music gets going around 6 p.m. on the main drag. We’ve had Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson, Corb Lund, and many other great acts play this event. The main attraction is a bronze statue of Dad that’s in the center of the park. D. Michael Thomas is the artist who put it together.
C&I: Are there other stops you like to make in Wyoming and Kansas?
LeDoux: One of my favorites is Lou Talbert’s in Casper, Wyoming; the shop features great Westernwear and décor. Another unique store is King’s Saddlery and Ropes in Sheridan, Wyoming, where they make their own ropes and are also known for their ball caps, worn by Johnny Depp and other celebrities. I also frequent the Rusty Spur Tack Shop in Kaycee, a saddle, tack, and leather shop with a connecting art gallery.
C&I: You had your Grand Ole Opry debut at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in 2017.
LeDoux: It was such an honor to play that stage. Dad and the Western Underground played together years ago at Opryland but never did perform at the Ryman, truly the Mother Church of Country Music, with the likes of Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, and Minnie Pearl performing there in the early days. Ricky Skaggs was hosting the show, and he introduced me and I played two songs: “Brother Highway” with the Opry Band, and then one by myself, a song that I wrote for Dad called “The Hawk.” When friends who live in Kansas or Wyoming ask me what they should visit in Nashville, the Ryman is always on the top of the list — it’s right downtown and just a very legendary place.
Just LeDoux It!
That’s the logo on all sorts of Chris LeDoux merch. We’ve appropriated the clever slogan to clue you in on some of Ned LeDoux’s favorite Western doin’s.
Chris LeDoux Days, June 15 – 16, Kaycee, Wyoming.
An annual Father’s Day weekend highlight in Chris and son Ned’s hometown, the event transforms the normally serene Chris LeDoux Memorial Park into a spirited party ground in honor of the late rodeo champ. Amid the rodeo, concerts, and street dance, don’t miss (though we don’t know how you could) Good Ride Cowboy, the massive 3,500-pound bronze statue of the legendary Chris LeDoux created by Buffalo, Wyoming, sculptor D. Michael Thomas. chrisledoux.com
The American Royal, August – December, various sites in the Kansas City metro area.
The 2019 season of this livestock and horse show, rodeo, and barbecue competition kicks off August 10 – 11 with the Youth and Open Horse Show and ends December 7 – 8 with the Arabian Horse Show. The finger-lickin’ signature event, the American Royal World Series of Barbecue, takes place September 12 – 15 at the Kansas Speedway. americanroyal.com
Photography: Courtesy TKO Artist Management, Courtesy Kansas Tourism, Courtesy Travel Wyoming, Courtesy The Ryman Auditorium, Courtesy Travel Wyoming
From the May/June 2019 issue.