Chris LeDoux’s ‘This Cowboy’s Hat’: Story Behind the Hit Western Ballad

by Clayton Edwards

Chris LeDoux might be one of the most important figures in modern country music. Without him, Garth Brooks wouldn’t be the performer he is today. At the same time, Garth helped LeDoux gain widespread fame.

When he started, he wasn’t even a full-time musician. He was a rodeo cowboy and sculptor. Music was just a side hustle and hobby for LeDoux. He wrote and recorded his own music and sold what he recorded out of the back of his truck. In 1970, he formed his own label called American Cowboy Songs and released 22 albums under that imprint between 1971 and 1990. Chris LeDoux had a regional following and sold his albums with little marketing. He was happy to do that and wasn’t much concerned with widespread fame. In fact, he turned down several record deals over the years.

LeDoux was introduced to a wider audience with Garth Brooks‘ debut single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” In the song, Garth shouts out the man who inspired his entire career. Not long after that, Chris LeDoux was on his way to country music stardom.

After he gained notoriety from that song, Liberty Records signed Chris LeDoux. He would go on to release four albums in his first four years on the label. His major-label debut contained what might be his most famous song, “This Cowboy’s Hat.”

Chris LeDoux recorded songs about the life of a cowboy. So, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. He lived the life. LeDoux started competing in the rodeo in high school and went on to be champion bareback rider later in his life.

“This Cowboy’s Hat” is a great example of reaching into this lifestyle for inspiration. While it probably isn’t a word-for-word true story, it’s easy to see where the inspiration comes from.

Don’t Touch Chris LeDoux’s Cowboy Hat

As most of the best Western songs are, “This Cowboy’s Hat” tells a story. It’s all about Chris LeDoux and one of his cowboy friends swapping stories at a coffee shop. A handful of rough-looking bikers come in and start talking trash. In the song, the biggest of the bikers asks LeDoux’s buddy where he parked his horse. The cowboy lets that slide. Then, the biker threatens to take his hat. At that point, the cowboy’s line is drawn.

He stands up and, in the most badass cowboy fashion, lets the biker know that he’s treading on thin ice. That’s not just a hat on his head. That’s a legacy. There’s some sentimental value to the hat and he has no problem fighting over it.

He explains that his dad gave him the hat and he passed away the year before. That’s enough to make the hat worth fighting for. That’s only the beginning, though. His nephew made the rattlesnake hatband he sports. That nephew died in Vietnam. It gets a little deeper when he explains that the eagle feather in the hat was a gift from a Native American friend of his. That friend was murdered in the desert. To top it all off, his hatpin was a gift from a “special lady” that he’ll probably never see again.

It’s not just a hat. It’s a memorial to his late family members and a reminder of lost love. He lets the biker know that if he so much as touches the hat, he won’t just be contending with the cowboy. In fact, he’ll be up against all of the spirits connected to the hat. It’d be one heck of a fight.

Common Ground is Key

This leads to one of the best choruses in country music history. “You’ll ride a black tornado ‘cross the western sky/ Rope an ol’ blue northern, and milk it till it’s dry/ Bulldog the Mississippi and pin its ears down flat/ Long before you take this cowboy’s hat.”

What really backs the biker down is the way the old cowboy finds common ground with him. “Now if your leather jacket means to you what this hat means to me/ Then I guess we understand each other, and we’ll just let it be.” At that point, the bikers leave. It’s not because they’re scared but because they get it. A biker’s leathers are important. They don’t just show their club affiliation. They chronicle the biker’s journey. Usually, bikers feel the same way about their leathers as cowboys do about their hats.

Chris LeDoux lays this out at the beginning of the song with a short introduction. “Well, there’s always been groups of people/ That never could see eye to eye/ And I always thought if they ever had/ A chance to sit down and talk face to face/ They might realize they got a lot in common.”

That little confrontation was enough to let the bikers and the cowboy see eye-to-eye for a moment. That really resonates here at Outsider. We’re all about finding that common ground between different types of people. Cowboys, bikers, hippies, and everything in between – we all have something in common. If we can find it, we’ll be better off. The hope for that is enough to put a big ol’ Texas grin on all our faces.