Chris was, to make an allusion to Sideways, the pinot noir of country music -- not well-known or widely consumed, but a deep and rich blend, whole and satisfying, that spoke to a select group of devotees. Among the rodeo crowd in which I ran in college and later on the pro circuit, he was the soundtrack of our lives, playing from the stereos of worn-out Cadillacs and high-mileage pickups pulling three-horse trailers, singing over the loudspeakers of a million dusty arenas, and occasionally looking down at us gingerly two-stepping our way around the dance floor with a knowing grin. He had been there, had lived the life of an itinerant rodeo cowboy, and he sang about it -- the thrill of that gold buckle, the silent agony and pain of failure, the constant threat of death that hangs over a place where man and animal work together and occasionally collide -- to each and every one of us. Even more than that, he spoke not only to our present, but to our future -- finding the person we loved, settling down, having a beautiful ranch and friends -- and to the past that we represented, the Old West, the wild horses, the way of life that was fast disappearing.
I sat down when I got home tonight and took out my collection of his CDs and tapes.....feeling the rough surfaces, the worn jewel cases, the greasy fingerprints.....the case in which I kept them still faintly redolent of arena dust and horse manure....and I cried.
I still don't know why....whether it was for the loss of Chris....or something more....the thanks for all the long days I spent singing with him hauling down the interstate, all the nights he accompanied as my buddies and I celebrated being young, single cowboys....for being my inspiration to get into singing and DJing myself....and for accompanying some very special dances with even more special fellows.
To Chris's family, those of us out here share your pain and wish you all the best.....thank you so much for sharing him with us for all these years.
To Chris himself......I think the best tribute would be his own words from his song, "One Less Twister"......
Now there's one less tornado in Texas
And a saddle that's empty tonight
There's one hell of a cowboy in heaven
At that big rodeo in the sky.
Thank you for everything, Chris.... vaya con Dios, mi amigo.