AFTER THE STORM

Story by Larry Holden and David Scarlett -- Photo by Morrison/Wulffraat

My grandpa had a great old barn," recalls Chris LeDoux with a smile. "Big old oak beams. All hand-hewn. You could see where they used the broadaxe on it. It was great." He pauses for a moment. "I love barns."

No surprise. After all, Chris has a lot in common with traditional barns.

At age 53, his rock-solid cowboy body is a little weathered, but still standing tall and sturdy. And it has the nicks and scars that helped shape him into the man he is today. Some he acquired through years of riding rodeo broncos intent on unseating him. Others came through Chris' life-threatening battle with liver disease and the transplant that saved him nearly 18 months ago.

Chris candidly calls that dark period in his life "the storm." And, appropriately enough, the title of his first album since the transplant is After The Storm, set for early April release.

"The new album's a little different," declares Chris. "It's maybe just a little more country than what I've done before, a little more sentimental. We've got some funny, good stuff on there, too. Overall, the songs reflect where I am right now -- after the storm is over.

"And a lot of the songs have to do with how I feel about my wife."

Chris doesn't consider himself a romantic in the tradition of roses, candy or soft music. "I'm just an old country boy with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth kind of guy," he explains with a grin.

But he's never shy about expressing the love he feels for the woman who's stuck by his side since their early days of sleeping in his car between rodeos. And Chris' affection for wife Peggy is even deeper since passing through the storm together.

"I've always felt great about her, loved her," confesses Chris. "And she's been my best friend and everything. But then, for her to go through what she went through gettin' me back to health, I realized how solid she is." No wonder the album contains a heart-tugging dedication to Peggy. "Yeah, she's solid," Chris adds with a nod.

And she needed to be. Chris confesses that there was a time when he was ready to cash in his chips.

"When this was really gettin' bad," he explains. "I was ready to go. I thought, 'Well, I've had 50 great years. So, okay -- it's a good day to die.'

"And I didn't realize how selfish I was, thinkin' that way," he continues. "You know, to leave my wife behind. I know financially she'd have some security ... But that was just a selfish thought -- to think, 'OK, I've had enough.'

"But I didn't really care. It's like you lose your soul, or your spirit's gone in a hole somewhere. It's just hard to describe what the feelin' is. It's not like breakin' a leg or wreckin' your knee or anything. This has to do with your whole being."

Fortunately, Chris, with the support of Peggy, their five kids and some good friends, made it through those dark times. He's feeling better and is back doing what he loves to do -- spending time with his family, working on his ranch and playing music for his fans.

"I have some days I'm sort of down," he explains. "But usually, I feel pretty good. Energy level's up. It still feels kind of weird where they did the surgery and it probably always will. Some of the muscles are kinda wakin' up, and some aren't, where nerves have been cut. But I actually feel pretty good and pretty energetic."

In fact, he's feeling good enough to take on a project near and dear to his heart -- building a new barn on his Wyoming ranch. "I don't know how old the barn on my place is," acknowledges Chris. "But it's about to cave in. It was there when we got the place in '78 and it was way old then. It might be 70 years old. Pretty ancient.

"I'm building the new one myself. I've been buyin' a bunch of lumber and puttin' beams together and gettin' everything ready. It'll be 30 by 50. It won't be real big, but it'll be a nice barn. A place to get the cows out of the weather."

Chris confesses that making something with his own hands -- seeing it grow from nothing -- is very satisfying to him. "Yeah, I love it. Just simple stuff. Bein' outdoors is probably the main thing."

And, even though he does get tired sometimes, he lives for the special moments in between.

"You'll get just a little spurt of energy," he declares, "and the sap gets to flowin' a little bit. And the joy of livin' just hits you all of a sudden. Boy, you just relish those things.

"Now, more than ever, every little moment of joy is really appreciated."

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