That’s no accident. Playing such down home, Western-style music has been a passion of Cowboys lead singer and co-founder David John his entire life.
“Just watching old cowboy movies when I was a kid, I guess,” John told the Sparks Tribune about the root of his musical inspiration. “Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne.”
The Duke’s trademark walk would be an appropriate visual accompaniment to the group’s music. Formed in the mid-1990s by John and his brother Rich, the Comstock Cowboys have released 10 albums with an 11th due out soon. With titles like “Songs of the Old West,” “Cowboys, Old Fiddles and Wine” and “Runaway Train,” the songs are throwbacks to a day more than 150 years gone by — or at least our cultural mythology of those days. John said he likes to write songs about real historical figures and events like Wyatt Earp and the Battle of Little Bighorn, songs he calls “cowboy music,” to distinguish it from the modern “country music” that is nothing more than pop in boots.
John grew up a New England farm boy in Connecticut, but he has twang running through his veins. He learned to play guitar as a child and his family had its own band. Mom played piano, dad drums and he and his two brothers on guitar. They played parties and before he could legally drink John was playing in saloons from Florida to New York. He started playing professionally in his 20s in Nashville and has been going ever since. Between his solo endeavors and work with the Comstock Cowboys, John has played with the likes of Merle Haggard and Elvis Presley’s former accompanists, the Jordan-aires.
Despite the longevity of the music, John said there are no modern influences in the group’s music. However, John said, members Rich Liska (vocals, keyboard, dobro, steel guitar), Dale Poune (vocals, lead guitar), Robert “Doc” Quam (vocals, fiddle and mandolin), Rick Hammel (vocals and bass) and Mike Ansoteque (percussion, washboard) each add their own personal touch to the distinctive sound.
“We also add our own brand to it,” John said. “We don’t do it in the traditional style, otherwise you become an impersonator of somebody old. We try to put our own brand on it and try not to copy any particular singer or artist.”
While on stage, the band does try to copy faithfully the dress of the Old West. Between custom costumes and clothes purchased at The Red Garter in Virginia City and the occasional six-shooter (if the venue will allow the musicians to wear them), the Comstock Cowboys are both an audible and visible flashback to the 1800s, and so is their audience.
“Most of our fans dress the part,” John said. “They get into it.”
Flashing forward to today, John said the group is in the process of finishing its new CD from its recording studio in the hills of Gardnerville. The album will have a Western gospel theme, which is oft-requested by fans. The Cowboys have performed such music at shows and finally decided to lay down a full album of gospel-influenced recordings. Pennsylvania country singer Lacy J. Dalton is a guest on the CD, which, like all Cowboys albums, will be on the group’s own label, Aztec Records. John said the group’s music is available for purchase at Wal-Mart, as well as online at www.comstockcowboys.com.
The Web site also has 30-second samples of Comstock Cowboys songs from previously released albums. Steve Stein of Wildest Westerns magazine wrote that the group’s songs “tell of life, death, horses and cowboys, taking us back to a simpler time.” They do, complete with simple strumming and gee-tar pickin’ sure to make toughest buckaroo swoon. “People who come to see us they don’t expect anything trendy,” John said. “You’re going to go back in time. ... We don’t have to worry about doing songs that stay up with trends.”
By the time the show is over, you’ll be brushing the desert dust off your ears.
The Comstock Cowboys will perform Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Tickets are $18.50 and available for purchase by calling 356-3300.