But with the calendar having turned to 2011, band founder John hopes to move on starting with Saturday’s performance at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
Two of the band’s members rode off into the eternal sunset last year: John’s brother Rich Liska, who played steel guitar, died of cancer and Rick Hammel, who played bass guitar, died of liver problems.
“We had a rough year,” John said. “The Comstock Cowboys took a big hit this year.”
Before those two deaths, John coped with the loss of his son five years ago, who died of heart problems at age 37. Part of his catharsis came in song form: The title song of the 2010 release “I Was Never Alone,” a gospel-style album, was about God’s support in his time of loss, John said. This most recent album is one of the group’s best sellers, he added.
While no replacement has been found for the rare and unique steel guitar Liska brought to the band, longtime musician Larry Goldman has taken up bass guitar for the Cowboys, joining John, Dale Poune (vocals, lead guitar), Robert “Doc” Quam (vocals, fiddle and mandolin) and Mike Ansoteque (percussion, washboard). With all that has happened, John said the band still is working to get back on track.
“We’re trying to get it up to par again,” he said. “We’ve got great fans that support us wherever we go and we’re thankful for that.”
For more than 15 years, the Comstock Cowboys’ music has been conjuring images of saloons, horses, tumbleweeds and a time gone by. Formed in the mid-1990s by John and Liska, the Comstock Cowboys have released 11 albums. 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.
Though he grew up in Connecticut, John said he likes to write songs about real historical figures and events of the West, such as Wyatt Earp and the Battle of Little Bighorn. He calls his songs “cowboy music,” to distinguish it from the modern country music.
While on stage, the band does try to faithfully copy 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 permit them), the Comstock Cowboys are both an audible and visible flashback to the 1800s.
The Cowboys didn’t do much touring in 2010, John said, though they still perform weekends at The Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City. This year shows more promise, he said, with more phone calls already coming in about gigs. And though the content of the Comstock Cowboys’ next album is not set, the tone is.
“We want to go a little bit more positive, a little bit happier note,” John said. “We’re going to do something a little more uplifting.”
The Comstock Cowboys will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Tickets are $15 and are available for purchase by calling 356-3300.
For more about David John and the Comstock Cowboys, visit www.comstockcowboys.com.