ELKO, Nev. • The familiar sound of drunken merriment impedes the crowded main street of Deadwood as a man with a thick, white beard smokes a cigar and plays piano in the Gem Saloon. Reverend Smith, who suffers from a brain tumor, sits beside the piano player and mindlessly waves his Bible as four prostitutes dance around a man who offers them wrinkled dollars.
This gritty scene, from the 10th episode in the first season of the HBO series “Deadwood,” is just one of the on-screen roles for Dave Bourne in the series. Bourne, the piano player, is not a regular character in “Deadwood,” but his saloon piano is an important aspect of the show.
“‘Deadwood’ was really good for me,” Bourne said during a phone interview from his home in Agoura Hills, Calif. “They used my music for all three seasons.”
Bourne has made a name for himself as an Old West icon. He played the saloon player in the movie “Jonah Hex” and has been consulted for History Channel programs. And he has been a regular at Elko’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering since 2003.
“I’ve been to all but four,” he said. “Elko is the best. It’s the zenith for all of the (cowboy poetry) gatherings. I think it’s amazing; there’s no comparison to the others.
“It’s like going to camp with your buddies for a week.”
In previous years, Bourne has entertained in the Western Folklife Center’s Pioneer Saloon. This year, Bourne will do more than play piano melodies from the Old West — he’ll discuss the history of the saloon piano era, 1865 to 1910.
Bourne was interested in the music from that period as a child, he said. “I learned some really old music early on.”
His father, also a musician, passed down many older songs. Bourne also gained an appreciation for saloon piano by watching westerns.
“The music in western movies always captivated me,” Bourne said. “If there was a saloon, there was always a saloon player.” Songs like Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races” are common melodies, he said, but many listeners might not recognize them simply by their titles.
Also, “a lot of good music from the Civil War is still heard today,” he said.
Bourne has released seven albums of saloon piano music and often performs at functions across California.
Bourne will perform in the Western Folklife Center’s Pioneer Saloon at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, and at noon Saturday, Feb. 2. He will also join the Dinner Theater in the Great Basin College Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1-2. Details:www.westernfolklife.org or 775-738-7508.