Michael J. Combs, 42, guitarist, vocalist

December 17, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Michael J. Combs, a guitarist and vocalist who played in rock bands in Baltimore and Los Angeles, died Monday of injuries suffered in a snowboarding accident in Vail, Colo. He was 42.

The former Catonsville resident lived in Calabasas, Calif.

Mr. Combs was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville. After leaving Catonsville High School and earning a General Educational Development diploma, he served in the Coast Guard from 1979 until being discharged in 1982.

He returned to Baltimore to pursue his dream of a music career and played in several hard rock bands, including 911 and Strong Arm. He appeared with Wrathchild and Jackpot at such popular local nightclubs as Hammerjacks.

His breakthrough came in the early 1990s, when he joined drummer Shannon Larkin and bassist Brad Divens to form Back Alley Gators in Baltimore.

The band, which moved to California in 1995, promoted its music as "a combination of rockabilly and speed metal with attitude."

The band played more than 250 concerts in the United States in 1996 and toured abroad, giving performances in London and Austria.

"After the Gators disbanded in California, he joined one of Southern California's most popular bands, the Cadillac Tramps, which one reviewer praised for its `punk energy and impressive pop, blues, rockabilly and soul instincts,'" said William "Butch" Ward, an uncle, who is a former News American reporter and former managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

At his death, Mr. Combs -- who was known to his fans as "Maddog" -- was recording an album with guitarist Brian Ward. They hoped to release the recording, Maddog and the Barn Burners, next year.

Mr. Combs had established Eldorado Linen Co. to produce his linen designs, which were to be used in the production of a line of "high-end punk" men's wear.

"In a recent conversation, Mr. Combs spoke of the happiness he had found in California," said Mr. Ward, who lives in Wallingford, Pa. "He said, `I'm living my dream.'"

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Witzke Funeral Home of Catonsville, 1630 Edmondson Ave.

Mr. Combs is survived by his father, Ben Combs of Ellicott City; his mother, Charlotte D. Borotka, and stepfather, John Borotka, of Pasadena; two brothers, Mark T. Combs of Columbia and Brian D. Combs of Los Angeles; and Alison Eastwood, an actress and companion of three years who lives in Calabasas.

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