“Written by Timothy Harakal. 2 March 2016.”
It’s rare that dedicated high school athletes end up going pro, and it’s even more rare that they are so athletic that they can pick between one of two or more sports in which they could have a legitimate career as a professional. However, far more rare than either is when someone can simultaneously become nationally recognized as both an athlete and an artist, but that is exactly what rodeo champion and country-western singer-songwriter Chris LeDoux did back in the 1970s and beyond.
In July of 1992, he released his first ever gold album (albeit the 24th album he had ever released) called Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy, and his song “Hooked On An 8 Second Ride” provides a glimpse into his former bull riding and bareback horse riding days. His 1992 release of this re-recorded song (and the whole record) solidified his acceptance and still-rising status within the country music community. The song also represented a slightly newer sound allowing for a concert style appropriate for the changing tides of country music performances, and it could even be said that it had a culturally relevant anti-drug message for that time frame as well. Interestingly enough, his re-recording of this song originally released in 1988 on Chris LeDoux and the Saddle Boogie Band also celebrates the April, 1992 founding of the Professional Bull Riders, which legitimized a tradition he had grown up with and contributed to immensely. His son even says, “LeDoux’s music captured the spirit of the sport.”
In his brief biography, LeDoux’s son Will reflects on how his father grew up in a culture of Texas rodeo enthusiasts. And after winning a buckle in a rodeo contest, Chris LeDoux was hooked. His family moved to Wyoming years later, and this only gave him more chances to pursue his ‘rodeo star’ dream. According to an August 1978 interview featuring LeDoux in Country Song Roundup, he got his start competing in Texas in “barrel racing, goat tying, and calf riding…anything with a little danger to it.” However, he quickly graduated to riding bulls and bareback horses while in Wyoming, deciding to make bareback riding his specialty after he won the high school championship in that category.
LeDoux said, “in ’72 I decided to go ahead and try to make some records on rodeo music, because no one had ever done it that I knew of. There were riding songs, barroom songs and love songs, and a bunch of rodeo fans who wanted to hear something about rodeo.” LeDoux started selling tapes out of his car, and his success and sound spread. His fame naturally increased, especially after his 1976 Bareback Riding victory that earned him the title of World’s Champion Rodeo Cowboy.
Although he retired from riding in rodeos in 1980, his successes as a rodeo cowboy gave him a refreshing authenticity that fans valued. Most people probably just didn’t grasp why he would desire to ride bucking bulls and horses in the first place (even after repeatedly sustaining injuries). In “Hooked On An 8 Second Ride” though, lyrics like “He’s hooked on a feelin’ / addicted to a natural high / Don’t know why it’s appealin’/ All he knows is he’s got to ride” seek to help these casual country fans understand why he and others were addicted to that adrenaline rush they got from riding.
On the other hand, his rodeo enthusiast audience, the people for whom he insists he initially started writing the music, will easily identify and appreciate some of the more subtle details. For example, LeDoux’s detailed description of how “Gettin’ up down in back of the chutes / Makes that rosin burn” translates directly for them, although I had to look up what that phrase means. They knew he was referring to the sticky substance he would put on his gloves and rope to help him get a better grip while riding in the arena. As soon as this niche of listeners saw “8 Seconds” in his song title, they probably knew it referred to the minimum amount of time necessary for a ride to qualify according to Professional Bull Riders. Some of these listeners may have even seen LeDoux peddling his music at one of the rodeos at which they watched him ride.
LeDoux remained an independent artist for nearly two decades, “selling his discs through the mail, at the rate of about 100,000 copies a year” in 1978, according to his interview with Country Song Roundup, which is staggering for an artist without a record label. Garth Brooks, a longtime fan, mentioned his love for LeDoux’s music in the beginning of his 1989 Billboard Top-ten Country debut single “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” This led to LeDoux reconsidering signing with a record label. Just this shout-out exposed millions of new listeners to LeDoux’s music, and he capitalized on this uptake in exposure by signing with Capitol Records’ affiliate Liberty Records, a deal which Garth Brooks helped orchestrate.
While “Hooked On An 8 Second Ride” was originally recorded in 1988, he re-recorded it in 1992. This re-recorded version is the one he released on his second record Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy distributed by Liberty Records. Sales were far higher than in ’88 because this album went gold, thanks largely in part to the album’s title-track being a duet with Garth Brooks, who was in the midst of his meteoric rise to fame by then. Most likely, Brooks’ fans listened to the title-track duet and then decided to listen to LeDoux’s other tracks on the album too. They also could have been drawn to “8 Second Ride” because maybe they had heard about his rodeo success, curiosity beckoning them to hear his authentic take on rodeo life. The country rock style of this song also appealed to Garth’s fans, who enjoyed how Garth himself integrated popular rock elements into his own musical style.
Another interesting story behind this song is that by this time in LeDoux’s career, his son Will characterizes his dad’s view towards songwriting as “sitting by yourself all day pulling out one hair at a time”, so it’s worth noting that “8 Second Ride” is only one of 3 or 4 songs on the 11-track record that he himself wrote. It makes even more sense that he used a re-recording on the album because it meant one less new song he actually had to go through the pain of writing. However, he is passionate enough about rodeos to go through the unpleasant writing process in order to tell others why he loves them so much. LeDoux would even go on to release notable compilation albums with Liberty Records (another gold album in ’94 and his first and only platinum one in ’99). This proves how his highest-ever charting single “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy” drove traffic to that album and its other songs like “8 Second Ride”, solidifying his acceptance and well-deserved respect from the community of country music.
Chris LeDoux’s sound in “Hooked on an 8 Second Ride” actually differs slightly in the 1992 re-recording. It forsakes some of the softer synth-sounding background from the ’88 track (preview on Amazon.com), and the guitar sounds even grungier (plus less twangy) and the cymbals more brash. This interesting instrumentation sounds much more like country rock than LeDoux’s usually more traditional sounding country music. In the first YouTube comment on the live performance, Tim Ess talks about the lead guitarist of Western Underground, the band with which LeDoux performed, saying, “Man, dude was on the very threshold of playing a metal solo for an outro.” While this may be a bit hyperbolic, the more engaging, arena-filling type of sound was on the rise in 1990s country music performances.
Writer Peter Cooper claims that in the ‘90s, LeDoux’s good friend Garth Brooks “ushered contemporary country into the arena stage, filling 20,000 seat venues” and regularly hosted elaborate stage displays involving pyrotechnics, smoke, light shows, etc. He also became quite popular for his incorporation of rock into his music, so audiences became more accustomed to appreciating a newer country rock sound in the 1990s. While LeDoux didn’t go as far as Brooks theatrically, you can tell that his buddy Garth rubbed off on him, because “8 Second Ride” featured a “get-on-your-feet-and/or-clap” element to it, complete with smoke machines and strong colored lighting typical of more of a rock concert (and with the rock elements to support it). LeDoux has even been known to pull such theatrics as having a mechanical bull on stage before, desiring to mimic some of the more rural atmosphere of rodeos.
The American public at large, not just rodeo-goers and die-hard LeDoux fans, would have had an interesting reaction to this song as well because of its treatment of bull riding as an addiction. In the year of the re-recorded release of “8 Second Ride”, rock band Alice in Chains released their album Dirt, which climbed to #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200. The popularity of this release is mildly disturbing given that at least 3 of its songs explicitly focus on heroin and its effects, while most others off the album also make references to illegal drugs. And this wasn’t the only band talking about drugs in the ‘90s. Music enthusiast Alice Lee blogs about how this decade saw a higher-than-average number of popular songs which were actually secretly about crystal meth, including a Goo Goo Dolls song that peaked inside the top ten of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. And if these claims seem unsubstantiated, maybe PBS’s historical background will be a little more convincing.
PBS published a story on how crystal meth’s popularity in the United States exploded in the early ‘90s because the “drug’s purity doubled.” No wonder illegal drugs became such a lyrical theme for ‘90s musicians in a decade where a “flood of meth spread eastward from the West Coast…and the number of people entering rehab for meth skyrocketed.” This sheds new light on the thrill-seeking culture of some of the audience of the ’90s – a time when getting “hooked” on illegal drugs became far more common. It makes you think Chris LeDoux, aware of the rise of drug use at the time, also wanted to write about a sort of addiction (bull riding). However, his aim would have been hooking listeners in with its “addiction” terminology, but possibly helping persuade those listeners to become involved in the more legal (although not necessarily safer) sport as a way to satisfy their addictive cravings instead of meth.
While his record Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy was released in July, 1992, April of that same year marked the monumental establishment of the Professional Bull Riders. This helped changed the public’s perception of bull riders from “being ‘unskilled’ to headlining rodeos, and eventually forming their own sport, which sells out arenas such as Madison Square Garden and can be seen on network television.” LeDoux sure had good reason to re-record his 1988 “8 Second Ride” in order to release it just in time to celebrate the advancements in the sport that he grew up on, the sport that led to his success in bareback riding. “8 Second Ride” hit the charts again as part of his album that peaked into the U.S. Billboard Top-ten Country albums when released.
I’m sure he smiled knowing that bull riders (with newfound pride and respect in their sport) would be hearing his song on the radio and singing along at the rodeo. And thanks to Garth Brooks, I’m sure he smiled when he reflected on success not only in the rise of his music’s popularity, but also on his concert sales buoyed by their more theatric, impressively technical, arena-filling design that his buddy Garth had helped bring into fashion. But more than any of that, LeDoux had better reasons to smile – as many reasons as the countless authentic songs he wrote which reminded him of his full, fun life largely lived under the wild western skies.
Cartwright, Keith Ryan. “It All Started in a Motel Room.” PBR. Professional Bull Riders, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Cooper, Peter. “Pocketful of Gold: Country Music in the Age of Plenty.” Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Ed. Paul Kingsbury and Alanna Nash. New York: DK, 2006. 321-349. Print.
LeDoux, Chris. “This Singing Cowboy Is the Real McCoy.” Country Song Roundup. Interview by Valerie Ridenour. Aug. 1978: 28-29. Print.
LeDoux, Will, and Rob Fair. “Bio.” Chris LeDoux. Chris LeDoux International Fan Club, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Lee, Alice. “12 Hit Songs From The 90’s Secretly About Crystal Meth.” The Yearbook Office. Alice Lee, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
“Timeline: Meth.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.