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When Chris LeDoux celebrates his 54th birthday Oct. 2, he just might want to save a slice of cake for his rebirth day five days later. After all, Oct. 7 marks the two-year anniversary of his liver transplant - and second chance at life.
And he's making the most of it - touring with the band, working his ranch and spending time with wife Peggy and their five kids. He's also taking satisfaction in the release of Chris LeDoux: The Capitol Collection (1990-2000), a special six-CD box set that looks back on the past decade of his amazing career.
"It's been fun to just kind of enjoy life again," he declares with a smile. "Most of the time I really feel good and I'm still able to do about everything I could always do."
For Chris, that includes lots of manual labor around his Wyoming ranch - and he much prefers that to the required weight-lifting regimen following his surgery.
"You oughta be out lifting something - like a shovel or some lumber," he proclaims. "Do some actual work that accomplishes something instead of lifting a piece of steel and puttin' it back down. At the end of a weight-training session, the damn weights are still sittin' there!"
And "sittin' there" is something Chris has no intention of doing. It's a trait that's rubbed off on his kids. "Ned's still playing drums in the band with me," explains Chris. "Clay's still running the ranch. Will's the manager of the University of Wyoming football team. Cindy's going back to college in Casper and just got her a barrel racin' horse. And Beau, the youngest, he's rodeoin'."
It's not much of a stretch for Chris to think back to his own early rodeo days as he follows Beau's progress. "Usually Peggy'd stay home in August," recalls Chris. "Me and another bareback rider would take off. We'd just live in the truck and buy us a bar of Lava soap and anytime you found an irrigation ditch or a reservoir, that's where you'd take your bath. Some people wouldn't think that's too romantic, but I thought it was pretty cool."
Recently, Chris and Peggy packed up the Jeep Cherokee, hitched up the boat and took a romantic trip of their own to his next show. "We spent the night up on the Bighorn Mountains," declares Chris, "and went over to Yellowstone and down to Jenny Lake, outside of Jackson. Then eased back to a little lake way up high. Just a nice trip."
The same could be said of Chris' career - it's been a "nice trip" from the days of selling his 8-track tapes out of his truck on the rodeo circuit to the release of his new box set. The new collection contains his albums Under This Old Hat, Stampede, One Road Man, Haywire, Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy and Western Underground, plus a re-recorded bonus track on each CD.
One of his favorite songs, included in the set, always made a big impression on his kids.
" 'The Passenger' is one I wrote a long time ago about picking up the Devil along the highway," explains Chris. "It used to just scare the hell out of my kids, especially Will, when he was little. He'd want me to play it, but as soon as I'd start, he'd plug his ears and run out of the room!"
Chris laughs at the memory. It's obvious he's enjoying every moment of just being alive. In fact, there's nothing in his life he'd like to change.
"I'd just like everything to pretty much stay the same," he reflects quietly.
"I'm living the best days every day right now."
-- Larry Holden & David Scarlett