When tragedy strikes, it feels as though life as we know it should just stop…. And yet the world keeps moving on. Long before Ned LeDoux’s two-year-old daughter Haven died from a choking accident last month, the singer/songwriter had completed work on his sophomore album, Next in Line, which released Nov. 8 on Powder River Records.
According to a statement, LeDoux says he plans to honor his daughter by continuing to play shows, write and record songs. “Haven is the perfect example of what love is about,” LeDoux said in a statement. “Remember her smile and the love she had for everyone. She will always be with us… Thank you all so very much for your support. God Bless.”
Prior to the loss of his little girl, LeDoux had taken time to talk to Sounds Like Nashville about his new album and about carrying on the legacy of his father, Chris LeDoux, while working to carve his own path in the music industry.
“The first thing I’m sure they are all going to think about is dad and that’s totally fine,” LeDoux says of his father, a Hall of Fame rodeo champion and platinum-selling recording artist, who was immortalized in the Garth Brooks hit “Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old.”
“If I can be half the man he was I think I’ll be okay, but when it comes to songwriting I’ve got to write my own story,” says LeDoux, CEO of Powder River Records. “If people take a liking to it, that’s wonderful. As long as I’m writing from the heart, and writing about what I know, I can definitely listen back to it and be proud.”
LeDoux has a lot to be proud of on Next in Line. The album is teeming with well-written songs brought to life with LeDoux’s smooth, evocative voice. The single “Old Fashioned” unabashedly celebrates his roots. “This song pretty much describes where I came from and the lessons I learned growing up that I still carry on to this day,” says LeDoux, who has headlined his own tours as well as opening for Garth Brooks, Toby Keith and others. “There’s one line that says, ‘Know who you are, and who you are not.’ That kind of sums it up. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not or try to be somebody else. Just stick to your guns. Stick to who you are. I’m a terrible pretender. I’ve got to be myself.”
LeDoux admits those are lessons he learned from his parents and grandparents. “I grew up with the best grandparents ever and also the best parents,” says LeDoux, who tips his hat to his grandfather, Bud Rhoads, on the song “Worth It.” “I’m very fortunate to be in that family and raised with common sense. It seems like this day in age common sense has kind of flown the nest. Our parents instilled in us the simple little things: have a good work ethic, follow your dreams, be nice to people and live by the golden rule. And call me old fashioned, but that’s just who I am.”
LeDoux was born and raised on a ranch outside Kaycee, Wyoming, which his family still owns, but these days makes his home in Kansas with his wife and family. “The place where we live is way out in the country. It’s two hours from Kansas City. I’ve never lived that close to a major airport before,” he says. “When I’m home, I want to be lost in our little sanctuary and do my best not to go anywhere.”
Though he grew up driving a tractor and working cattle on the ranch, he knew early on he wanted to pursue a career in music. “I’ve played drums for years and got my first band when I was in junior high,” he says. “I went on to play drums with my dad from 1998 until he passed away in 2005, and then I started doing solo gigs. The only songs I knew at the time was my dad’s old stuff, the classics, but there were people coming up and saying, ‘Don’t you have any of your own stuff?’”
LeDoux admits that at that time, he didn’t. “I didn’t even think about writing my own stuff, but then I got connected with Mac McAnally and he introduced me to songwriting,” LeDoux says of the songwriter/producer/musician who produced the last three albums Chris LeDoux recorded. “Mac taught me how to write and all I had to do is watch, listen and pay attention.”
The younger LeDoux learned well and the fruits of that labor can be heard on his 2016 debut EP Forever a Cowboy and his first full-length project, 2017’s Sagebrush. Next in Line continues that momentum with finely crafted songs that reflect his western lifestyle. “I’m proud to carry on the tradition and a lot of songs that I write are going to relate with songs that my dad wrote and recorded because I lived the same life,” he says.
LeDoux admits he’s fallen in love with songwriting and is always ready for inspiration to strike. “I always keep my antenna out, listening for something that someone would say that I hadn’t heard before or maybe something would come to mind and I write it down on a boarding pass or gas receipt,” he says. “When things slow down in the winter, that’s when I kind of pour all those ideas out on the table and pick through them and piece them together. As far as like the songs go, there’s quite a few on the new album that relate very well with stuff I’ve recorded or written already, but there’s also a sense of depth that I want to include. [I want to] give people a little more to think about that maybe has a different meaning to one person than it does the next. I definitely try to grow as a songwriter because it’s something I’ve really started enjoying doing.”
The title track was inspired by a poem his father-in-law wrote. “He was too bashful to give it to me in person. I had been on the road and came home. I went downstairs to do some laundry or something and saw this crumpled up piece of paper sitting on the table,” LeDoux recalls. “I looked at it and it was titled ‘Next In Line.’ I remembered my wife had told me about this poem that her dad had written, so I was reading through it and thought, ‘Man this is wonderful!’ I kind of rephrased some of it and added the melody to make it all fit, but the song itself is about these ranches that have been in the family for decades. You just hope that the next in line will find interest in it to carry it on because a lot of these ranches or farms have family members buried on them. You would hate to see the next generation just see dollar signs in their eyes and sell the property to some big corporation. . . This song is just to say please keep it going and do what you can because your great-grandparents started this place.”
In addition to the new songs on the album, LeDoux pays tribute to his dad by recording the classic “Homegrown Western Saturday Night.” “I included my dad saying that little poem at the beginning. That’s the staple for that song. We couldn’t record the song without having that. It kind of sums it all up. We found the intro on the Powder River album [from] back in ’89 and it’s the original way it was all laid out. We had to keep that on there.”
Though he’s succeeding at forging his own musical identity, Ned says he’ll always celebrate his father’s legacy. “No matter how many albums I put out there, I’m always going to put one song that my dad wrote and recorded himself,” he says. “I chose ‘Homegrown Western Saturday Night’ because it’s just a great story and it’s true. There’s this one room schoolhouse that’s still out there. It’s west of Kaycee, WY, maybe 25 miles or so and they used to have these dances in there every weekend or every couple of weekends.”
LeDoux acknowledges his music might not be considered mainstream country, but he knows there are a lot of fans that appreciate his unique artistic vision. “I was talking to my manager and was like, ‘You know my stuff isn’t going to be mainstream,’” he says. “It’s the kind of stuff that a lot of people can relate to and they are the kind of folks who still drive these old pickups with cassette players or maybe somehow the 8-track players in them still, but they still buy the physical product, which is the key thing. There’s a lot of them out there. You just can’t see them from the road.”