Mark Sissel – Chris LeDoux’s Right Hand Man
Mark Sissel Recorded March 10, 2021
Chris LeDoux / Mark Sissel CD: The Ultimate Collection
Chris McKay interviews Mark Sissel of Western Underground. Mark has spent over 30 years “Riding The LeDoux Brand”. First as Chris LeDoux’s right hand man to now backing Ned LeDoux on the road. From the first phone call from Kaycee, WY to first their handshake in Salt Lake City, The bond between Chris LeDoux and Mark Sissel was predestined to be friends for life.
Chris LeDoux (October 2, 1948 – March 9, 2005) was an American country music singer-songwriter, bronze sculptor, and hall of fame rodeo champion. During his career LeDoux recorded 36 albums (many self-released) which have sold more than six million units in the United States as of January 2007. He was awarded two gold and one platinum album certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), was nominated for a Grammy Award, and was honored with the Academy of Country Music Music Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. LeDoux is also the only person to participate and also perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
LeDoux was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, on October 2, 1948. He was of French descent on his father’s side. His father was in the US Air Force and was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base at the time of his birth. The family moved often when he was a child, due to his father’s Air Force career. He learned to ride horses while visiting his grandparents on their Wyoming farm. At age 13, LeDoux participated in his first rodeo, and before long was winning junior rodeo competitions.
LeDoux continued to compete in rodeo events and played football through his high school years. When his family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, he attended Cheyenne Central High School. After twice winning the Wyoming State Rodeo Championship bareback riding title during high school, LeDoux earned a rodeo scholarship to Casper College in Casper. During his junior year at Eastern New Mexico University, LeDoux won the Intercollegiate National bareback riding Championship.
LeDoux married Peggy Rhoads on January 4, 1972. They had five children: Clay, Ned, Will, Beau, and Cindy.
Rodeo success and music beginnings
In 1970, LeDoux became a professional rodeo cowboy on the national circuit.To help pay his expenses while traveling the country, he began composing songs describing his lifestyle. Within two years, he had written enough songs to make up an album, and soon established a recording company, American Cowboy Songs, with his father. After recording his songs in a friend’s basement, LeDoux “began selling his tapes at rodeo events out of the back of his pickup truck”.
In 1976, LeDoux won the world bareback riding championship at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Winning the championship gave LeDoux more credibility with music audiences, as he now had proof that the cowboy songs he wrote were authentic. LeDoux continued competing for the next four years. He retired in 1980.
With his rodeo career at an end, LeDoux and his family settled on a ranch in Kaycee, Wyoming. LeDoux continued to write and record his songs, and began playing concerts. His concerts were very popular, and often featured a mechanical bull (which he rode between songs) and fireworks. By 1982 he had sold more than 250,000 copies of his albums, with little or no marketing. By the end of the decade he had self-released 22 albums.
Despite offers from various record labels, LeDoux refused to sign a recording contract, instead choosing to retain his independence and control over his work while enjoying his regional following. In 1989, however, he shot to national prominence when he was mentioned in Garth Brooks’ Top 10 country hit “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” Capitalizing on the sudden attention, LeDoux signed a contract with Capitol Records subsidiary Liberty Records and released his first national album, Western Underground, in 1991. His follow-up album, Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy, was certified gold and reached the Top 10. The title track, a duet with Brooks, became LeDoux’s first and only Top 10 country single, reaching No. 7 in 1992. In concert, he ended the song by saying, “Thanks, Garth!”
For the 35th annual Grammy Awards in 1992, the single track “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy” was nominated for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
For the next decade, LeDoux continued to record for Liberty. He released six additional records, including One Road Man, which made the country Top 40 in 1998. Toward the end of his career, LeDoux began recording material written by other artists, which he attributed to the challenge of composing new lyrics. With his 2000 release, Cowboy, he returned to his roots, re-recording many of his earliest songwriting creations.
The RIAA certified two gold and one platinum recordings for LeDoux. On February 22, 1993, the single “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy” went gold. On June 2, 1997, the album The Best of Chris LeDoux went gold. And on October 5, 2005, the album 20 Greatest Hits went platinum.
Illness and death
In August 2000, LeDoux was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which required him to receive a liver transplant. Garth Brooks volunteered to donate part of his liver, but it was incompatible. An alternative donor was located, and LeDoux received a transplant on October 7, 2000. After his recovery he released two additional albums. In November 2004, LeDoux was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma for which he underwent radiation treatment until his death. LeDoux died of cancer on March 9, 2005, at age 56. His funeral was held on March 11.