Comstock Cowboys rehearse and record on Alpine ranch

Two goats eyed us warily as we pulled into the farmyard. Then, two cattle dogs noisily announced our arrival at the back porch of the little old ranch house in Fredericksburg, Alpine County, just as western music group "David John and the Comstock Cowboys" were starting a recording session in their music studio.

"Plunk that bass." "Tap, scratch." "Kick drum." Stick on the high hat." "Got a lot of slap." "Voice in two." Those words didn't make sense to me, but never mind, because I love to listen to all of their nine CDs, and we're looking forward to going up to the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City on April 29 or 30 to watch the group in action.

Group leader and songwriter David John says, "We get a big kick out of playing at the Bucket of Blood on weekend afternoons when we don't have any other bookings. We're wearing our guns, and foreign tourists like to have their pictures taken with real cowboys. We have fans from the Bay area, who also are dressed in western gear, even though they might be investment brokers or computer engineers, and then it's like old home week when fans from Texas or somewhere else show up, and we haven't seen them for a year or six months."

While David John (Liska) and his band-member brother, Rich Liska, grew up in New England, they were raised as farm boys, surrounded by forest, with no nearby neighbors. David John headed to Nashville, Tenn., spending time there and turning to his talent of songwriting. In 1991, the brothers opened up Buckaroos in Gardnerville, and started forming the band that has become the Comstock Cowboys.

When asked if he misses Nashville, David John replied, "No, not at all. I don't like big cities, and I really don't miss the politics of the music business."

David John lives in the Pine Nut mountains, Rick Hammel in Virginia City, Mike Ansotegui in Fallon and Rich Liska in Fredericksburg, where the recording studio is located.

Stalactites of soft foam acoustical insulation are stapled to the ceilings and walls of the music studio, curtains separate computerized compartments, wires are snaked in progression, guitars are stashed with care, and the two dogs are soundlessly integrated into the recording session.

While these four musicians were recording the day we visited, several other local musicians are also associated with the group. For their most recent album, "Gather 'round Cowboys," a rich assortment of instruments and musicians are gathered: the lead vocal is handled as usual by David John; vocal harmony by Rich Liska and Rick Hammel; lead guitar by Doug Tarrant, Beans Sousa, Glenn Buschine, David John and Dale Poune; Spanish guitar by Beans Sousa and David John; fiddle by Randy Pollard, Robert Erlich and Doc Quam; steel guitar, dobro, keyboard and Blues harp by Rich Liska; rhythm guitar and mandolin by David John; drums by Mike Ansotegui and Herbie Weiskopf; Mexican trumpet by Jonny Cantina; and bass by Rick Hammel and Beans Sousa.

All of the Comstock Cowboys' album covers are painted by former Virginia City artist John Hunt, who moved his studio from there to Taos and now to Italy. Because the Comstock Cowboys own their music publishing company, Aztec Records, they have complete artistic freedom, from designing their album covers to selecting their music, usually a combination of David John's original songs and traditional western tunes. Having been featured at the Sparks Nugget Showroom, the Comstock Cowboys also have opened for Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubbs, Laci Dalton and many others. Their "Christmas in the Sierra," featuring a blend of new and old and original tunes sung around a campfire on stage, is an ever-popular program.

As a family business, David John does the creative work, his wife Dien Liska distributes CDs, Rich Liska handles bookings and payroll, and his wife Marcy does their web site,

n Gina Gigli is a Markleeville resident. Reach her at


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