Vince Combs, a near-legendary Monroe-style mandolinist from Kentucky, has passed away after a four year struggle with bone marrow cancer. He was 81 years of age, and died on Saturday night (7/25).
Though born and raised in Eastern Kentucky, his life was divided between his work for General Motors in Dayton, OH and touring with his group, Vince Combs & Shade Tree Bluegrass. Combs worked for 38 years at GM, and at least 25 touring in his converted tour bus. All in all, nearly 60 years of his time was given over to the music.
The Vince Combs Bluegrass Festival was held for 20 years at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, OH. As his health began to fail, Vince had to give up promoting festivals, but plenty of folks in the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana area have attended one of his events.
Bill Monroe was his biggest influence, and he styled his mandolin playing largely after Big Mon. By age 16, Combs had his first instrument, a mandolin purchased from Montgomery Ward. Soon he and his brother, Woodie, were performing around their home in Kentucky. While still a young man, Vince met bluegrass singer Hylo Brown and worked with him for a time before launching his own group.
Scott Napier, mandolinist with Lost and Found and instructor in the Kentucky School of Bluegrass & Traditional Music at Hazard Community & Technical College, shared a brief remembrance of Vince.
“Vince Combs was a staple in the bluegrass community in eastern Kentucky and certainly one of the first mandolin players I was around. He loved Bill Monroe and he wore that white hat with great respect. He spread his music all around the fire halls, little mountain fairs, and festivals alike. Although he wasn’t nationally known like his hero, his fans loved him just as much. It’s our duty to honor the work horses of our music. Vince Combs wore that hat well.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Newcomer Funeral Home, Beavercreek Chapel. Visitation is scheduled for Wednesday evening (7/29) from 5:00-8:00 p.m., with funeral services Thursday at 11:00 a.m.