Real Western > Rodeo > Big Names in Rodeo
Big Names in Rodeo

Here we will introduce you to some people you will want to know when discussing rodeo. This information should come in handy if you are ever engaged in conversation with a rodeo cowboy in the States.

Lane Frost

Anyone who saw the movie "8 Seconds" should know this name. Lane Frost was a legendary figure in rodeo who was born in La Junta, Colorado in 1963 and lived most of his life in Lane, Oklahoma, later moving to Texas. In 1987 Lane became the PRCA World Champion Bull Rider, and successfully won the seven part event called "The Challenge of Champions" against the legendary unridden bull, Red Rock.
Red Rock was a legendary bucking bull owned by stock contractor Livermore Pro Rodeo. Red Rock remained unridden throughout his career, bucking off 309 cowboys which included such names as Tuff Hedeman and Ted Nuce(*1). The challenge, which was held after Red Rock's retirement from active competition, was won by Lane Frost, 4 to 3. Not only was Red Rock the only bull never ridden during active competition, but until the day Red Rock died of a stroke in 1994, no one other than Lane would ever successfully ride the bull for the full 8 seconds again.
The following year in 1989 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, Lane would successfully ride a bull by the name of "Taking Care of Business" which had bucked him off at the rodeo in San Angelo, Texas earlier in the year. However, following the dismount, he was unable to get traction in the mud from the rain that had fallen the last couple of days, as the bull quickly turned and headed straight for him from behind. The bull caught him around his seat and thighs, knocking him forward and into the ground, then, as Lane rolled over on his right and balled-up to make as small a target as possible, the bull hit him in the left side with his horn, breaking his ribs with one possibly severing an artery or puncturing his heart. Lane rose to his feet and motioned for help, but fell before anyone but the nearest bull fighter could get there, and died soon after. His ride began around 3:30 p.m.; he was dead by 4:00. He was only 25 years old.
The following year, Lane would be inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame; he is youngest person to receive the honor.
The movie "8 Seconds" is a motion picture based on his life, and one every rodeo fan should see. It should be pointed out that Lane's parents were not happy with the film, and some parts of it are fiction created by Hollywood. After all, it's a movie, not a documentary.
*1: Ted Nuce - A rodeo cowboy who rode bulls during the 80's and part of the 90's, becoming the world champion bull rider in 1985. Retired in 1995.

Richard "Tuff" Hedeman

Tuff Headman (right)
One of the best known names in rodeo and bull riding today is Richard "Tuff" Hedeman. Born the seventh child of seven children in El Paso, Texas in 1963, Tuff later became the PRCA's world champion bull rider in 1986, 1989 and 1991, and was also the PBR's world champion in 1995.
When one watches "8 Seconds" they are left with the impression that Lane Frost had become the world champion before Tuff, but in fact Tuff achieved the status one year prior to Frost in 1986.
As his nickname indicates, Tuff has endured numerous injuries over the years only to comeback and do it again. Included in such injuries is one in 1995 where a bull by the name of Bodacious crushed his face, requiring several thousand dollars in reconstructive surgery.
Even after sustaining such debilitating injuries, Tuff always seemed to come back. But after breaking his neck for a third time in March of 1998, Tuff decided to hang up his spurs and retire from active competition later that year.
In 1997, Tuff was also inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
There are many other cowboys worthy of mention such as 8 time world bull riding champion Donny Gay, Lane Frost's mentor and hero Freckles Brown, Jim Sharp, Larry Mahan, Ty Murry, Charlie Sampson, Dan Mortenson, the Etbaur brothers, Fred Whitfield, Joe Beaver, Casey Tibbs, Joe Alexander and Jim Shoulders, but since we lack enough information to do these men justice, we will hold off until we do.

Chris LeDoux (1948 - 2005)

Let's say you go to the US and you get to talking with the local cowboys about rodeo, there is one individual that is an absolute must that you know, or you are sure to be the laughing stock of the crowd. We are talking about country music singer Chris LeDoux.
Surely there is more than one or two people who read the above paragraph and said to themselves, "Who?" And not surprisingly so. Even in the US it's not unusual to find country fans that have no idea who he is.
About the only songs by him that some people know might be "Cadillac Ranch" which climbed into the Top 20 in 1993, and the 1992 Top 10 hit duet with Garth Brooks, "Wacha' Gonna Do With A Cowboy?"
Come to think of it, next time you hear Garth Brooks' "Much Too Young" off of his first and self titled album, listen closely to the second verse. In this ballad that describes the worn and haggard life of a saddle bronc rider is the name of Chris LeDoux:
"...A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze
Seem to be the only friends I've left at all..."
(Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old), by R. Taylor/G. Brooks,
Copyright 1986 by Major Bob Music, Copyright 1989 by Capitol Nashville, a division of Capitol Records, Inc)
And it wasn't just for a rime either; in fact, Chris LeDoux and this ballad have much to do with one another.
There are other songs that speak of rodeo, such as by Garth Brooks' "Rodeo" and the fast adrenalin packed song about bull riding titled "Fever" which is a remake of an Aerosmith version. There is also Johnny Cash's "Bull Rider" and "No Ordinary Man" by Tracy Bird as well as "Ridin' the Rodeo" by Perfect Stranger, and many, many others. But should you ask an American rodeo cowboy what his favorite rodeo song is, chances are his answer would end with, " Chris LeDoux."
Chris LeDoux was born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1948, moving to Austin, Texas with his family when he was 12. Here he would learn horsemanship from an ex-cavalry man, and two years later he would advance to the Little Britches Rodeo finals in bull riding as well as become the champion bareback rider. Later he would excel on his high school rodeo team becoming the 1967 Wyoming State High School Bareback Champion and receiving a rodeo scholarship to attend Casper College in Wyoming. While attending Casper, Chris worked on local ranches, rode the pro circuit and became the National Intercollegiate Bareback Champion in 1969. In his third year of riding pro, Chris attained his PRCA card, dropped out of college and pursued rodeo full time.
Spending some time of his youth in Wyoming, Chris LeDoux often dreamt of winning at Cheyenne. He would come closest in 1974, narrowly missing the title by one point. But he would not miss his other dream; becoming the world champion. In 1976, Chris LeDoux became the PRCA World Bareback Riding Champion. Several decades later, LeDoux would still be proudly wearing the buckle he won that night in Oklahoma City.
While riding the pro circuit, Chris wrote of his rugged and harsh but unique life in songs and later recorded these songs on tape in his dad's garage. In order to make a little more money while rodeoing, Chris would sell these tapes to the cowboys at rodeos from the trunk of his car; unbeknownst to him at the time, he was also building a loyal following at the same time.
After retiring from rodeo in 1980, Chris took up music as his main occupation, building on the fan base he had built over the years selling tapes. Putting music to his songs of the rodeo life and mixing traditional cowboys songs into all this, Chris would release albums unlike any other artist which included rode songs such as "Rodeo Life" "The National Finals" and "Bull Rider." By 1990, after many years of independent recordings and 22 albums, Chris finally achieves enough notoriety to sign a major record deal with Liberty Records (the former Capitol Records). A big reason behind this notoriety was the Garth Brooks song mentioning his LeDoux's name in it become a smash hit, and fans bought up Chris LeDoux records to try and find out who this man was that Brooks sang so eloquently about in his song.
Aside from the albums recorded at Liberty, Chris LeDoux records may be hard to appreciate for those who are listening to his music for the first time. After all, the records were recorded in his dad's garage or basement, and compared to albums recorded in professional studios, the sound is rough and light. And for those who don't rodeo, it may be hard to empathize with the songs.
But for the rodeo cowboy that etches out a rugged, lonely and rough living, Chris LeDoux is almost like a war buddy, someone who has shared in the trials they now face. Furthermore, Chris LeDoux is sort of a "Rodeo Ambassador" for them, spreading the sport they love and the reasons they love it to the world.
You know, songs really come to live when they are based on a true experience, and it seems only natural that rodeo cowboys would prefer the songs written by a man who experienced what he is writing about. And so, should you go to the US and engage in a conversation with rodeo cowboys and say you didn't know of their "ambassador" well, that would be like going to Disneyland and saying you didn't know who Mickey Mouse was, and you would deserve to be laughed at.
Even after recording with Liberty, Chris never forgot his roots, and every album he released contained at least one song about rodeo.
For many years, Chris LeDoux suffered from liver disease, and in 2000 underwent a liver transplant. He would subsequently make a full recovery, but in 2004 he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer that affects the bile ducts, and this time he would loose the fight, passing on in March of 2005.
In 2003, Chris LeDoux was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame, and in 2005, he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame as well.

Written by Randy Reese

Copyright © 1998-2005 Real Western All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized Reproduction and Copying Prohibited