Born 1946 in St. Louis MO, Paul Combs moved with his family to Philadelphia, PA in 1953. His earliest musical training included singing in his church choir, where the choir director took the time to teach singing and develop good ensemble sense. Paul also played trombone in the band at his elementary school. Later he attended Central H.S., studying theory and counterpoint there and at the Settlement Music School. His first saxophone studies were with Buddy Savitt. He began playing professionally in 1963, as a saxophonist and singer in a small band that played mostly functions. He also began doubling on flute at this time, and bass a couple of years later.
He earned a Bachelor of Music degree, in Composition, from the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now the University of the Arts) in 1968. He stayed in Philadelphia until 1971, playing in various bands, writing music for theater, producing concerts and producing music programs for WUHY-FM (now WHYY-FM).
Around 1970 Paul Combs began a musical exploration of his Appalachian ancestry. His father, a college English professor, was from Kentucky but had chosen to turn his back on that part of his background. This exploration led Combs to set aside the saxophone for a few years. From 1971 to 1974 he concentrated on guitar and bass, both acoustic and electric. He toured as a solo singer/guitarist and backed up several folk singers and songwriters in concerts and on recordings. These singers included, among others, Paul Gerimia, Mary McCaslin, U. Utah Phillips, Jim Ringer, Paul Seibel and Rosalie Sorrels. He was also involved in the co-operative management movement as a charter member of both the Wildflowers and Buck ‘n’ Wing co-operatives.