Unmistakable message, unmistakable passion

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Michael Combs performs at Renfro Valley on Aug. 4, 2018.

Michael Combs communicates message of hope from his heart

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

When he steps to the microphone, Michael Combs delivers an unmistakable sound driven by an unmistakable passion for Jesus Christ.

Such was the case when Combs was in concert at Renfro Valley on Aug. 4. There were no stage pyrotechnics or fancy displays.

There was just fire from Michael’s burning heart as he started singing one of his signature songs.

This heart belongs to Jesus ‘cause He saved my soul from Hell;

This heart belongs to Jesus, This heart’s not for sale!

Not for sale! I’m not for sale,

No way, no sir, I’m not for sale!

And as his voice drops into a bit of a growl, then reaches a higher note, there is no doubt Michael Combs isn’t for sale to the world and never will be.

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Michael Combs autographs a shirt for a young fan at Renfro Valley, Kentucky.

“I think I sing with my heart more than anything,” Combs said as he reflected on his life, his music and his ministry about 90 minutes before the show. “It’s just a strong passion and conviction. I believe in what I am singing about and I think that comes through in the way that I sing.”

The production is simple as Combs flips on some recorded tracks or picks his Ovation guitar, but the message is such that each of his songs are often likened to sermons. “I have heard that over the years,” Combs smiles. “As a matter of fact, I have been known as the preacher singer or the singer preacher. I consider that a high compliment. I think I have a preacher’s heart. There are a lot of singers better than me but I am a communicator.”

Combs has been communicating a message of hope in Christ ever since he experienced his own victory in 1989. He was raised in a Christian home by godly parents, but by the time he was 13, Michael says he was “like the children of Israel. I rebelled. I wandered into the wilderness and chased other gods. I drank and became a drug addict.”

Combs, then 31, says his life was a mess and many people had given up on him when, at rock bottom, he attended a revival service at West Side Baptist Church in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. “A preacher named Johnny Hunt preached the gospel to me one more time. God used him that night. His spirit fell on me and convicted me of sin. I cried out for mercy and, praise God, He heard me and saved me. I haven’t been the same since.”

That’s obvious as Combs delivers I Can Trust Him, the title cut from his latest CD, released in 2017. It describes the life Michael has led and continues to live each day.

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Michael Combs delivers his songs with great passion.

Not long after being saved, Combs underwent a liver transplant. He says the doctors told him even though he had been drinking heavily, the problem was caused by a genetic mutation. But 26 years of anti-rejection medications damaged his kidneys to where he had only eight percent function while he traveled singing about his savior. Dialysis was offered, but it would drastically alter his ministry’s travel schedule.

“I said, ‘No,’” Michael smiles.

In January of 2017, Combs got the call that a kidney was available. He drove his jeep through the snow from his home in western North Carolina to Wake Forest University Hospital in Winston-Salem. Four days later, he drove home. Two weeks after that, Michael drove to Florida to sing for a revival meeting.

Michael just smiles when he relates his story behind I Can Trust Him. Michael’s friend Glen Bates wrote the song with Combs in mind. And as he sits backstage at Renfro Valley, Combs almost seems astounded by God’s work in his life.

“The liver transplant was almost 30 years ago,” he says. “I have had two transplants and two other surgeries, but here I am today. I am here at Renfro Valley ready to get on stage and share my songs.”

And even sharing songs is something Combs says is “a God thing if there ever was a God thing.”

Self-taught on the piano and with a small arsenal of guitar chords, Combs had begun to write songs soon after becoming a Christian. His approach was simple: Take the Sunday sermon notes and turn them into a song. A man in his church said, “Mike have you ever thought about recording any of those songs you have written?”

Combs recalls that life’s realities precluded that option. “I said, ‘It takes money and I don’t have any.’

“He said, ‘I have plenty. You go do it and I will pay for it.”

Some radio stations started playing Combs’ music and a song that was not even supposed to go to the radio, a comedic cut called “Lamb-itis” cracked the Top 40. “It was kind of like something Ray Stevens would do,” Michael chuckles. “I thought I was going to be known as the ‘Gospel Ray Stevens’ the rest of my life.”

Instead, Michael just drew on his childhood influences and created a style that is a little country, a little southern gospel, a little Bluegrass and a bit of blues. They come together carrying a Christian message. “My first musical idol was Hank Williams, Sr.” he says. “I had listened to Merle Haggard and George Jones. Being from Jacksonville, I listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Righteous Brothers. Johnny Cash. Remember The Platters? I listened to The Platters. I just listened to that stuff and burned it into my brain.

“I had to find my own course and when I wanted to express myself, I just took those musical influences and kind of blended them together.”

It worked. Some even heard the light growl in Combs’ voice — “It’s natural,” he says with a smile. “It’s how I talk” — and likened him to British singer Joe Cocker.

Over time there were huge successes such as I’ll Be Back, a song about Christ leaving heaven to pay man’s debt on the cross and then coming back for His people.

Looking back on the twists and turns of an unconventional career, Michael can passionately sing another of his hits, Drinking from My Saucer, knowing that God blesses him again and again.

He learned again following another surgery in the late 1990s.

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Michael Combs makes a point during his concert at Renfro Valley.

“I was sitting at home having my own pity party, feeling sorry for myself, saying, ‘Why me, Lord? Why me?” he says.

Meanwhile, Combs’ wife, Denise, had returned from the post office with a pile of cards from well-wishers across the country. “Radio stations were telling people about my situation and requesting prayer on my behalf,” Michael remembers. “A lady from Ohio, named Janet, sent me a card. She encouraged me in the Lord and said, ‘Brother Michael, I don’t think God is through with you. He is going to raise you up and you are going to write some of the best songs you have ever written.”

The fan included a poem from an unknown author.

I’ve never made a fortune, and it’s probably too late now.

But I don’t worry about that much, I’m happy anyhow

And as I go along life’s journey,

I’m reaping better than I sowed.

I’m drinking from my saucer,

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

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Michael Combs at Renfro Valley.    (All photos by John Herndon)

“It was what I needed at that moment,” he remembers. “It was like God shook me and said, ‘Listen, it could be a lot worse. You could be burning in Hell right now.

“That is exactly what I deserve, but because of His mercy and grace, he has blessed me over and over again. When I read that poem, I walked across the room to a little digital piano. I just had to sing that poem. The tune came out of nowhere before I knew it. I was just sitting there singing it and looked up. My wife was standing there with tears running down her face.”

I’m drinking from my saucer

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

It’s how Michael Combs views life despite health issues that should have limited his ministry.

“I hope to give encouragement and bless someone and give some help to somebody,” Combs says.

Whether in concert or with recorded music, he does.

Unmistakably.

For more information see https://www.michaelcombs.com or follow Michael on Facebook.

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