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Dave Combs – Your Brand Amplified Transcript

00;00;01;05 – 00;00;27;29
Anika

Welcome to Your Brand Amplified the podcast where we interview marketers, publicists and brands to learn their stories, what makes them tick, and tips and tricks that make a difference. Welcome back to your brand Amplified. We’re taking a little departure from our last few episodes, which really focused a lot on business consulting, quantum leaps, but it kind of also fits with that.

00;00;27;29 – 00;00;50;16
Anika

It’s a great end cap I think, to this series of podcasts. It’s so interesting how that happens because my guest today is Dave Combs. He is a prolific songwriter who has built a business with virtually no advertising and done so much to move people with his music and also has a bestselling book! Dave, welcome to the show.

00;00;51;02 – 00;00;57;11
Dave Combs

Thank you, Anika. It’s a pleasure to be here on this beautiful spring day in North Carolina. And I’m sure you’re in, what, California?

00;00;57;17 – 00;00;59;04
Anika

I’m in California, yes.

00;00;59;13 – 00;01;01;24
Dave Combs

Well, we’ve got we’ve got the whole country covered then.

00;01;01;24 – 00;01;21;19
Anika

Exactly we do. I was really excited to interview you. I poked around a lot at some of your stuff, and I really want to hear how you got your start because I know you didn’t- you were doing some other stuff before you got to music. I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to tell our audience.

00;01;22;27 – 00;01;36;04
Dave Combs

Well, I’m like a lot of I’ve listened to some of your other episodes and I could identify with a lot of them, especially those entrepreneurs who are I think one of the gentlemen. Harris, I believe, is his last name, called it a multi entrepreneur.

00;01;36;04 – 00;01;37;15
Anika

Yes.

00;01;37;15 – 00;01;44;01
Dave Combs

And it’s really that kind of described to me. I thought, well, he and I could probably just bounce off of each other all day long.

00;01;45;01 – 00;02;06;09
Dave Combs

But but, you know, I have all my life, I have had tons of interests. I just am an inquisitive kid. You know, I’m the kid that when he got a toy, when nobody was looking, I took it apart together just to see how it worked. Wow. So it’s one of those things. So I grew up in in East Tennessee, up in the mountains of East Tennessee.

00;02;06;20 – 00;02;32;01
Dave Combs

I guess you could call me a Tennessee hillbilly, but I grew up in a family. My mother and father were both musical. They both played the piano. My father played by ear my mother was a former schoolteacher, but my father and my mother grew up on farms. So, you know, a farmer, I guess, is the ultimate entrepreneur. I mean, you are you are in business for yourself.

00;02;32;10 – 00;02;55;01
Dave Combs

You’re at the mercy of the weather and everything else around. And it’s a tough job to make a living as a small farmer or maybe even as a large farmer. But they came from that. Those were their roots. And I think when you come from long lines of families of a different of a particular kind of occupation, whether it’s farmers or businesspeople, whatever it is, it’s kind of in your blood.

00;02;55;02 – 00;03;24;07
Dave Combs

You know, you kind of expect yourself to have those same kind of ideas of independence and making, not depending on anybody else necessarily for everything that you have, but doing things, you know, creating things. If you’re a out, you’re selling things to people or whatever it is you do as an entrepreneur. So I grew up around that, and I suppose that even when I was 12 years old in the sixth grade, I planted a half acre of potatoes.

00;03;24;10 – 00;03;24;29
Anika

Oh, my gosh.

00;03;25;17 – 00;03;45;10
Dave Combs

And babied those suckers all summer long and dug them up myself and sold them by the bushel to my elementary school. I fed all my fellow students at my elementary school potatoes that sold for $5 a book. I think it was $5 a bushel that I sold them for. Which to that that’s a great deal.

00;03;45;18 – 00;03;46;21
Anika

But yeah, but.

00;03;46;21 – 00;03;51;00
Dave Combs

Anyway, that was that was kind of the beginnings of an entrepreneurial attitude.

00;03;51;06 – 00;03;51;17
Anika

Yeah.

00;03;51;26 – 00;03;53;02
Dave Combs

And concept for me.

00;03;53;10 – 00;04;05;25
Anika

Well, I want to say, you know, I grew up I actually grew up in Kansas, and my stepdad grew up on a farm and told me a lot of stories about, you know, you have to get up and you have to those cows aren’t going to milk themselves in the morning.

00;04;06;20 – 00;04;08;05
Dave Combs

I’ve heard that before. Yes.

00;04;09;14 – 00;04;30;25
Anika

It doesn’t matter, you know, what the weather’s like you or what else you think you want to do. You have responsibilities. You have to like you said, that is true entrepreneurship. You have to get up. You have to take care of everything before you go on to school or whatever else you have going on. When you get back at the end of the day, if you’re a school kid, same thing it waits for you. It doesn’t stop.

00;04;31;11 – 00;05;01;26
Dave Combs

That’s right. It’s I think that’s really good ground thing or a great life and really a foundation for your character and who you are. And I have the highest respect for people who are farmers and entrepreneurs that do things on their own initiative. And but anyway, I did not I didn’t become a farmer or anything, but I did go on to college and I took math as my major physics as my minor.

00;05;01;26 – 00;05;22;27
Dave Combs

And I worked in the computer center all four years. So I’m a very technical oriented person. I got my first job, my first my first and only really job with Western Electric which you may know of that company, it was the former- is part of the Bell System. It was the manufacturing arm of the Bell System, and it became later AT&T.

00;05;23;11 – 00;05;41;13
Dave Combs

But I worked for that company for 22 and a half years, starting out as a computer programmer, but then progressing through a lot of different jobs. And all of them, though, had to do with technology. So I was- everything I did was around technology. Now I love technology and I guess it’s come from what I said when I was a kid.

00;05;41;14 – 00;05;46;19
Dave Combs

I always wanted to know how did something work. I didn’t want to just play with it. I wanna know how does this thing work?

00;05;47;03 – 00;05;48;13
Anika

And you’re also musical.

00;05;49;00 – 00;06;13;06
Dave Combs

Yeah. You know, and with my parents both playing musical instruments, my father played by ear. He didn’t he didn’t read music very well, but my mother did. And my grandmother Combs, my father’s mother, she was only four foot eight, born in 1894. And she was hard working on a tobacco farm in southwestern Virginia, but she loved music.

00;06;13;09 – 00;06;28;21
Dave Combs

And a lot of my relatives back then, I learned, were really musical. They would, could play the guitar or piano or they loved to sing. But I have with me right here, this is my grandma Combs’ instrument that she gave to me when she passed away.

00;06;28;21 – 00;06;29;13
Anika

Wow.

00;06;29;13 – 00;06;43;23
Dave Combs

In the case where this was, there’s a note right over here in the case, it says, “this harp belongs to my grandson, David Combs”, because every time I went to see Granny Combs, first thing I had to do, she- she’d call me David.

00;06;44;03 – 00;07;36;19
Dave Combs

“Would you tune up my autoharp?” And I would sit down and I would tune it up by ear and get it so relatively it was all good. And then when I got it really sound and good she had sit down and she would turn loose on that autoharp and sing hymns or she- I can still hear her singing Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. You know, she could just just go on and on. And I loved that. And those memories will be I hope I remember those forever. Hmm. So music was a huge, huge part of my upbringing. And it’s probably not too surprising that eventually when I was finally 33 years old, I wrote my first song. Now you may ask, why did it take you 33 years to write a song?

00;07;37;01 – 00;08;01;06
Dave Combs

Well, Anika, there’s one principle that I have learned that I have tried to abide by now is what you tell a young person as an adult whether you’re a teacher, a parent, a friend, when you are talking to an impressionable teenager, young person, what you say may mean more to them than you ever know. And you’ve heard the stories about people being told they could never do something.

00;08;01;06 – 00;08;05;29
Dave Combs

Yeah. And it took them 50 years to find out that they could do something could do it.

00;08;06;04 – 00;08;08;09
Anika

And that’s what they wish they’d been doing that, 50 years.

00;08;08;25 – 00;08;28;03
Dave Combs

So but nobody had ever told me, Dave, you can write a song. You can write music at all. I love music. I love playing everybody else’s music. I was a choir director in my home church for two years while I was in college. And, you know, I love music, but it never occurred to me. Well, Dave, why don’t you write some of your own?

00;08;28;03 – 00;08;42;06
Dave Combs

You’ve got your own choir here. They could sing it with no problem, but so nobody had ever told me that but in 1981 I was 33 years old. I sat down at my piano like the one back here.

00;08;42;06 – 00;08;42;28
Anika

Yeah.

00;08;42;28 – 00;08;48;22
Dave Combs

And I just started playing. Now, this was a normal for me to play music when I got home from work.

00;08;48;28 – 00;09;01;23
Dave Combs

That’s how I relax. Now, a lot of people have a routine. They have their chill out routines, whether it’s to get on a treadmill and exercise or go for a walk or whatever you do. Mine was to sit at the piano and make some music.

00;09;01;23 – 00;09;02;18
Anika

Wow.

00;09;02;18 – 00;09;11;22
Dave Combs

And so this particular evening, I sit down at my piano and I start playing a song in the key of C, and it just sounds really pretty.

00;09;11;22 – 00;09;31;27
Dave Combs

And I’m playing this song and I get all the way through it, and I didn’t think anything about it, but it was a song I had never heard before, and I just played it. Now, I cannot explain this any other way than it was an inspiration. It was a song. I was the one chosen to play it for the first time.

00;09;32;09 – 00;09;33;11
Dave Combs

That’s the way I look at it.

00;09;33;11 – 00;09;34;09
Anika

That’s really beautiful.

00;09;34;20 – 00;09;49;20
Dave Combs

And my wife came home from work a couple of days later and she says, Dave, I’ve been having this song stuck in my head all day long. I’ve been humming it. What is the name of this song? And she hummed a little bit of it and I said, Well, Linda, it doesn’t have a name. And she goes, What?

00;09;49;29 – 00;10;07;28
Dave Combs

You play it all the time on the piano? Well, it’s just something I made up. And she says, Wow, well, have you written it down? I said, Well, no, I’ve got it up here. I’m not going to forget it. And she says, No, now something might happen to you, and that song would be gone forever, so you better write it down.

00;10;08;07 – 00;10;28;11
Dave Combs

So, yes, ma’am, I did. I wrote I wrote down the melody lines and the chords to go along with it all on a piece of manuscript and stuck it in my piano bench. Well, that was in that 1981 about January timeframe. 1983, some good friends of ours had a little baby girl and her name is Rachel.

00;10;29;07 – 00;10;54;22
Dave Combs

And so we, we were asked by her parents to be her godparents. Well, at Little Rachel’s christening service, Linda and I are sitting there and you know, at this point I’m sure you’ve been to christening services they’re all so touching and special and just precious. And so we’re sitting there and at the end of the formal service I touched Linda and there was a piano at the front of the church up on the platform, a beautiful baby grand piano.

00;10;55;24 – 00;11;13;06
Dave Combs

And so I said, Linda, what about me playing this song that we could never come up with a name for how about me playing it now as part of the service? She says, Well, that’s a great idea. So I went up to Rachel’s parents and the minister and said, Would it be okay If I played a song on the piano now?

00;11;13;26 – 00;11;34;24
Dave Combs

OK, that’d be fine. Everybody sits back down. I go over to the piano and I sit down and I start playing this this tune, and I get all most of the way through it, and I hear the sniffles in the crowd and I’m realizing I’ve got a little some teardrops coming down my cheeks, too, because, you know, first of all, it’s really a special service anyway.

00;11;34;24 – 00;11;54;03
Dave Combs

And then you top, top it off with some really touching music that just turns on the tear ducts. So anyway, at the end of the song, I look up over at little Rachel in the arms of her mother. And I said, From now on, this song will be called Rachel’s Song in her honor. And that’s how it got its name.

00;11;54;21 – 00;12;09;10
Dave Combs

So that for me, was kind of a really turning point for something that I created, really got out of me and into blessing someone else’s life. Yeah. And so that was how the song “Rachel’s Song” got its name.

00;12;10;20 – 00;12;16;28
Anika

And you’re still working in your day job at this point?

00;12;18;00 – 00;12;18;19
Dave Combs

Yes.

00;12;18;26 – 00;12;32;06
Anika

And you’re also writing now this is your first song, and this inspired you to write more songs but tell the story because not everybody in our audience will know the whole story of Rachel.

00;12;33;00 – 00;12;55;10
Dave Combs

All right. Well, you know, so I got it written and got it named. So then what’s next? Yeah, well, you roll the calendar forward about three years to 1986. And at this point in my career I was having to travel around the United States to all the AT&T Western Electric factories to help them implement some new software to run their factories.

00;12;55;16 – 00;13;06;10
Dave Combs

That was my specialty. And so I was there, I guess internal consultant to the factories. One of the factories that I had to go to visit and work at was in Nashville, Tennessee.

00;13;06;10 – 00;13;06;27
Anika

Hmm.

00;13;06;27 – 00;13;21;13
Dave Combs

I think it was devine, ordaned- man upstairs that I should be in Nashville, Tennessee, because Linda says, Wow, you’re in Nashville, why don’t you get a demo recording professionally made by these musicians in Nashville?

00;13;21;28 – 00;13;54;16
Dave Combs

I said, Well, I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a great idea. So I said, OK, but one evening after work, I get my rental car and I go driving around downtown Nashville hoping to find a studio to that would record Rachel’s song for me. And I go over there and a part of town. If you’ve been to Nashville, it’s all it earns its reputation as Music City USA because there are literally hundreds of studios and everything musical I was at over in the part of town called Music Square, and it’s about two square blocks of everything musical.

00;13;54;16 – 00;14;17;28
Dave Combs

It’s the Country Music Hall of Fame and BMI headquarters, Ascap’s headquarters, and the RCA studio that you can tour and wonderful everything musical. I go down this one little side street is called Roy Acuff Place. Now some of your audience will remember Roy Acuff was a very famous, well-loved country music person in Nashville, Tennessee. They named a street after him.

00;14;18;15 – 00;14;32;27
Dave Combs

So I go down Roy Acuff place, and on the right there is this big building that has a barn roof to it. And out front is this big waterwheel like you find it an old mill, you know, these water and grain mills out in the country.

00;14;32;27 – 00;14;33;23
Anika

Wow.

00;14;33;23 – 00;14;37;15
Dave Combs

And on the side of the building, it says the music mill.

00;14;38;10 – 00;14;58;19
Dave Combs

And I thought, well, this is encouraging. So I pull in, I pull in the parking lot, parking, and I can see through the glass door, there’s a man sitting at a desk in the lobby. OK, I finally found somebody at home today. So I go knock on the door and George comes to the door… or this gentleman comes to the door and introduces himself as George Clinton.

00;14;59;06 – 00;15;20;27
Dave Combs

It’s a different George Clinton than everybody else knows. Right. But this George Clinton was a recording engineer in Nashville. Much loved, much beloved person. And I later found out. But George introduced himself and I told him what I was looking for. And he says, well, come on in, Dave. And as I stepped into the lobby, I look over to my left.

00;15;20;27 – 00;15;43;14
Dave Combs

And up on the wall is a life sized picture of Glen Campbell. And here’s a great big picture of the wonderful group called Alabama. Everybody loves the singing of Alabama. Yes. And here’s the Forester sisters and then there’s gold records and platinum records, you know, all around the walls of this place. So, you know, I’m thinking, wow.

00;15;43;23 – 00;15;45;12
Anika

You’re in very good company here.

00;15;45;20 – 00;16;06;06
Dave Combs

And they’re really good company here. And I had never been in a studio before in my life. So George, he says, well, let me give you a tour. There’s nobody recording right now, which is unusual, but at this time of night there was nobody here. And so he said, Let’s go into studio A. Studio A is there big studio.

00;16;06;28 – 00;16;27;23
Dave Combs

So I go in this big room and you could put an orchestra in this this big room. It was huge. And over in the corner was a great big nine foot grand, you know, concert, grand piano and rooms and isolation rooms around the side of the room. And he said, Let’s go into the control room where all the magic happens.

00;16;27;23 – 00;16;56;28
Dave Combs

He said, let me show you something. So he opens this big, thick door, soundproof door into this room about that thick and we go in there and first thing I see is this console, the control console for the thing. Yeah, it was about eight feet long. I don’t have any rows of suites. I think it had 32 channels on it, which is that’s a, it’s a lot it’s a big long console. Sliders and knobs and lights and switches and cables runnin on everywhere.

00;16;56;28 – 00;17;20;16
Dave Combs

And I thought, wow, this is incredible. And around the walls of the room where these digital tape recorders and the recording equipment, and in front of the console were the two big like a monitor speakers so that you can hear it really good sounding, you’re going to sound as good as anywhere. And I said, George, how much does a place like this cost?

00;17;20;20 – 00;17;43;19
Dave Combs

Hmm. He says, Well, remember, this is not 1986. He said, this is $125 an hour plus engineer. And I thought, oh boy, cost in today’s dollars, that’s probably over $400 an hour. I mean that’s that’s way on up there. Yeah. And I wasn’t making anywhere close to that at AT&T. And he said, Well, don’t worry about that.

00;17;43;19 – 00;18;05;08
Dave Combs

He said, The fella who owns this studio owns a small studio across the street. It’s in a former little rent house that was like a little two bedroom house. And he converted it into a studio and it has a baby grand piano and a small console. But he said that one’s $15 an hour plus engineer. I said, Well, I can do that.

00;18;06;08 – 00;18;22;13
Dave Combs

I said, OK, George, now what I need is I need somebody to play the piano for me to play my song. And he said, He thought for a second. He said, I know just the person for you. His name is Gary Prim P-R-I-M. He said, I go to church with him. He’s a wonderful studio musician. Everybody loves Gary.

00;18;22;13 – 00;18;40;04
Dave Combs

He’s a great player. He said, He’ll do a great job for you. I said, Let me go back to my desk and I’ll look up his phone number for him. So he went back, got his Rolodex and looked up Gary Prim; wrote down the phone number for me, gave it to me. I made a beeline back from my hotel room and I called.

00;18;40;10 – 00;19;02;18
Dave Combs

Now this is before cell- I didn’t. Cell phones hadn’t been invented yet and neither had the Internet. So there was no Google or none of this stuff. So I go back and I call Gary Prim on the phone, got his answering machine and you call me back in about 30 minutes, introduced himself. I told him what I was looking for and that George Clinton had recommended him.

00;19;02;23 – 00;19;21;13
Dave Combs

Oh, well, if George said, I can do something here, I can certainly do that. And I said, Well, what do you need? And he said, Well, I just need two things. I need a recording of you playing the song. So I know what it sort of sounds like, and then I need a lead sheet. And I said, OK, what’s a lead sheet?

00;19;22;02 – 00;19;35;16
Dave Combs

I did not know the lane, the lingo of the music in Nashville. He said, Oh, it’s just the chords and the melody written out on a piece of paper. And I said, Well, I’ve got that. I just didn’t know to call it a lead sheet. I already had it.

00;19;36;07 – 00;19;41;18
Anika

But at this point you don’t even because you mentioned you passed ASCAP, you didn’t have the song registered-

00;19;41;29 – 00;19;47;00
Dave Combs

No, nothing was it was just, you know, on a piece of paper is all I had in my head.

00;19;47;03 – 00;19;48;25
Anika

You had a wife who gave you a nudge?

00;19;49;06 – 00;20;11;03
Dave Combs

Yeah, you picked up on that real quick, Anika. A lot of my success in my life and anything I have done, I can have tribute to my wife who’s upstairs right now. So my wife, Linda, is a remarkable person. She is a she’s a wonderful person in her heart. She is the controller of the state of North Carolina, for example, even today.

00;20;11;11 – 00;20;12;03
Anika

Oh, my gosh.

00;20;12;08 – 00;20;32;08
Dave Combs

He manages, you know, billions and billions of dollars for the state of North Carolina with 200 people working for her in the state capital in Raleigh. She’s still working. And don’t tell anybody, but she’s going to be 76 pretty soon. That’s amazing. She has been working 60 years on her 16th birthday. She went out and got a job.

00;20;33;07 – 00;20;35;19
Dave Combs

So she’s been working ever since she was 16 years old.

00;20;35;22 – 00;20;37;07
Anika

You are both our go getters.

00;20;37;22 – 00;21;03;19
Dave Combs

Boy, I tell you, and she is too. So anyway I get I get back home and I send Gary Prim the cassette tape and the rest of me playing it and the little lead sheet and I meet Gary in the studio two weeks later and back in Nashville on August the 22nd, 1986 at 6:00p.m. I’ll never will forget the date time.

00;21;03;19 – 00;21;21;20
Dave Combs

It’s one of those burned in my memory because that’s the day I met Gary Prim for the first time, and that’s the day that Rachel’s Song got recorded. We go into the studio and I won’t go into all the details and you’re going to, when you listen to Rachel’s song on my website and when you go to my home page, it’s right there in the middle.

00;21;21;20 – 00;21;50;15
Dave Combs

You can just click it and hear it. That is the original recording made by Gary on that day. It hadn’t been edited, it hasn’t been altered, remastered, anything. You’re listening to what I heard for the first time, anybody ever played my music. So that was incredible. And when Gary finished that recording, which just blew me away because what he created was, you know, I’d never heard anybody play my music before.

00;21;50;16 – 00;22;07;05
Dave Combs

It was just me playing it. What he played sounded as good to me as any song I’d heard on the radio anywhere. I don’t care who was recording it, whether it was Roger Williams or or Henry Mancini or whatever, it sounded as good as I had heard. So I was excited. As you can imagine.

00;22;07;05 – 00;22;07;18
Anika

Yes.

00;22;07;18 – 00;22;16;07
Dave Combs

And then the rest of the story on this, as Paul Harvey would say, is that I had- I played that song for anybody who would listen to it.

00;22;16;14 – 00;22;39;01
Dave Combs

I had a cassette. They made me a cassette tape that I could play in the car, in a rental car. Anybody who went to lunch with me that week pop, I pop that. You got to listen to this, boys. And so it was but everybody loved it. Everybody. I played it for love. I got back home in Winston-Salem and went to lunch with a good friend of mine on a totally different matter.

00;22;39;25 – 00;23;08;12
Dave Combs

And at lunch time, I was telling him about my recording session on Rachel Song. It turns out the fellow I went to lunch with is named Bob McComb. He also was a radio DJ and had a Saturday morning big band jazz program for about 3 hours where he’d play music and he would talk about it. Wander, he had he knew everything there was to know about big band jazz, he said, and we were having lunch at a cafeteria and he said, Let’s just go to my office.

00;23;08;12 – 00;23;25;22
Dave Combs

I got to hear this song. So we went to Bob’s office and we’re sitting there in his office. He pops the cassette tape in his boom box there in the office to play it. And I can still see him today. The boom box is sitting right here, and Bob is right there. Right at it, listening. He’s got his eyes.

00;23;25;22 – 00;23;48;09
Dave Combs

You know, when you really want to listen to something, you close your eyes and just kind of soak it in. And I can hear Bob to this day saying, mm. Mm hmm. You know that the universal approval sound, I don’t care what language, you know, that means it’s good, right? But he’s he was moved. He had tears coming down his eyes.

00;23;48;09 – 00;24;07;07
Dave Combs

He was he said, this is he said, Dave, this song is a standard. He said, this will be a standard. And I said, well, coming from you, Bob, you’re an expert in music. I hope you’re right. But he said, Dave, you got to let me play this on my radio program. I said, OK, but all I have is this reel-to-reel master tape.

00;24;07;07 – 00;24;26;13
Dave Combs

That’s the only copy in the world of it. So treat it well. So I gave him the master tape and he went to the radio station. They made a copy. Sure enough, that Saturday morning, my song was played on the radio for the first time, and a strange thing happened. The radio station manager called me about an hour later.

00;24;27;22 – 00;24;46;29
Dave Combs

He says, Dave, this has never happened to me. I’ve been in radio over 20 years. And no, this has never happened, he said. As soon as that song got played on the radio, all dozen of our phone lines at the radio station lit up. People were calling in saying, What is that song you’re playing? Would you play that again?

00;24;46;29 – 00;25;04;23
Dave Combs

What was tell me more about this Rachel’s Song and this Combs guy in Winston-Salem and he said, You have got something special. So I thought, Wow, now, now my real challenge is, OK, how do I get it played on all the other radio stations around the country?

00;25;04;23 – 00;25;05;17
Anika

Yeah.

00;25;05;17 – 00;25;11;07
Dave Combs

So to make a long- I did find a way to get the phone numbers for all these easy listening stations.

00;25;11;07 – 00;25;33;22
Dave Combs

There were about 400 of them around the country. I called a ton of them, and I also found out that there was a company called Bonneville Broadcasting that did programing for radio stations. So I got a hold of one person there who he loved Rachel’s Song, and he said, I’m going to put this in my all my stations. 200 of them at one time.

00;25;33;22 – 00;26;00;04
Dave Combs

So you go, you know, that’s like walking into a Wal-Mart and saying, We’re going to put this in all our stores. Boom, you’re suddenly in the big league. So that was what happened with Rachel Song getting played on every easy listening radio station around the country, and I started getting mail from all over the country. People would track me down and write me letters and tell me how much they enjoyed the music and how much it touched their lives.

00;26;00;27 – 00;26;05;08
Anika

And then did you make it available for sale at any point?

00;26;05;20 – 00;26;29;26
Dave Combs

Well that was the next challenge, as you can imagine then and here I am all I have is a cassette tape and at that point I didn’t even have a CD. So this is 1886-1987 timeframe. By 1988, I had written some more music and I went back to Nashville and recorded more songs with Gary Prim and we came out with the album.

00;26;30;01 – 00;26;50;09
Dave Combs

Rachel’s Song is the first song on there, of course, and so then finally I did have a product that I could sell to somebody if they wanted to purchase it, and they all did. So I had cassette tapes made and a CD made of Rachel’s Song. So now I have a product and I have a bunch of people that want it.

00;26;50;26 – 00;27;04;11
Dave Combs

The next question or challenge for any entrepreneur is how do you how do you let people know about your product? They know they can hear it on the radio. That’s a number of people, but that’s a small fraction of the total population. How do you run?

00;27;04;21 – 00;27;11;10
Anika

Yeah, yeah. And this is still before the Internet, before all the ways that you can market a product in the holidays.

00;27;11;18 – 00;27;30;26
Dave Combs

Yeah. So how in the world am I going to- that is that was and my wife and I set down many hours trying to figure out how can we basically get the music out there and let people be aware of it. And you know, we tried I did try to approach the big box stores with back then. We had we did have record stores.

00;27;30;29 – 00;27;55;18
Dave Combs

They called them. That’s because they literally sold vinyl records. And so I approached the big chains of record stores thinking that they would be happy to carry my Rachel’s song because it was such a beautiful song. Turns out they wouldn’t even hardly answer my phone, let alone talk to me about it. I didn’t have a name. They were only interested in a big name that was instantly recognizable, so that didn’t work out.

00;27;55;24 – 00;28;27;12
Dave Combs

So now I’m back to square one again. How do I get my music out into the world? Other than radio? Yeah. And then this is the story, and I encourage people to read the whole details. It’s in my book about how I started with one gift shop playing and selling my music. Now, those of you that travel around on vacation, you go to a tourist town, you go into a really nice gift shop nine times out of ten, you walk in, it looks good, it smells good and it sounds good.

00;28;27;12 – 00;28;36;02
Dave Combs

And most of the time they’re playing pretty music in the shop. No, it’s not going to be really loud, bumpy kind of music. It’s going to be very soft. Soothing.

00;28;36;17 – 00;28;40;08
Anika

Makes you want to stay there, makes you want to show off- inviting.

00;28;40;08 – 00;29;07;17
Dave Combs

And the longer they are in there, the more they’re going to buy. So anyhow, that was the venue that I eventually landed upon to sell my music and that and it was called the Play and Sale Market. And me and two other musicians around the country were the ones who invented that sales channel back then. Nobody else did it with me and a guy on the West Coast and a guy in the middle of the country.

00;29;07;29 – 00;29;34;17
Dave Combs

That’s how we discovered that would buy and sell our music. And it became known as play and sell market. And today everybody does it, but back then it was just me and two of the people. So the long story short is I was able to go from one gift shop to over a thousand gift shops covering the entire country in tourist towns all over the United States, and the story of how I did that is in my book, I would encourage your entrepreneurs to read about that.

00;29;34;17 – 00;29;55;07
Dave Combs

It’d take longer than we have here on the podcast to go into all those details. But it’s an interesting story of how I used big data, which wasn’t even called Big Data back then. It was just numbers. And in some sense I’m an analytical person. I would use my analytical thinking to help me through this process, and I talk about that in the book.

00;29;55;26 – 00;30;01;16
Anika

So yeah. So I really I’m curious because you’re still working your day job at this point.

00;30;01;29 – 00;30;28;23
Dave Combs

At that point I was because I didn’t, I wasn’t able to quit my day job until 1992. And so beginning with Rachel’s Song 1986, the album. 1988 I mean 89, I came out with a Christmas album and shortly thereafter with another album of original music that I did get busy and write more songs and it’s called Beautiful Thoughts and it’s, it’s, it’s also one of my favorite albums.

00;30;28;28 – 00;30;56;04
Dave Combs

It’s called Beautiful Thoughts. So every year thereafter I would come out with it, go back to Nashville and produce another album because I began accumulating my mailing list now when you sell something direct mail direct to the consumer, yeah, you better keep all those addresses. And today in today’s market, you keep their email addresses but back then it was their USPS, their regular mailing, physical mailing address.

00;30;57;01 – 00;31;16;05
Dave Combs

Well, I had grown my mailing list to and up to several thousand at this point once because I had I had the wisdom to put in the back of my cassette tapes and CDs a little old tear out card. Send me this if you want on my mailing list. Well, I get thousands of those little cards coming in.

00;31;16;10 – 00;31;29;27
Dave Combs

So yeah, if you come out with something new, let me know well, I did. And you know, my response rate initially after Rachel’s Song, the second album was virtually 100%.

00;31;29;27 – 00;31;30;11
Anika

That’s amazing.

00;31;30;11 – 00;31;46;29
Dave Combs

Everybody on my list bought the second album and virtually everybody bought the third album and by the fourth it was a little lower. But I was amazed that, you know, when 90% of your people buy another product for you, that’s almost unheard of now.

00;31;46;29 – 00;31;49;03
Dave Combs

That’s, that’s customer loyalty for you.

00;31;49;10 – 00;32;19;28
Anika

Very much so. That’s so unheard of. I mean, especially in today’s world where everybody does email marketing, you get so many emails and most of them you just don’t read because. Yeah, and but I think this is really important for entrepreneurs, too, is the way you built this up, because I’m really seeing a lot of the trend going back towards people want to get mail like in their mailboxes because it’s more unusual to get something that way.

00;32;20;17 – 00;32;39;28
Anika

And so we’re such an easy economy. You know, you go online, but I think marketing and doing more direct mail marketing with fun items and things like that or letting people know who are really interested and engaged with your product is an old school tactic that needs to make a big comeback because we get, you know, email overload.

00;32;39;28 – 00;32;42;14
Anika

It’s so much easier to unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

00;32;43;24 – 00;33;17;13
Dave Combs

And even with, you know, when you do a podcast like this, you may have let’s say, 10,000 people listening to it, but what percentage of those 10,000 are actually going to go over to their computer and type in Combsmusic.com and go to my website and click on Rachel Song and listen to it and maybe even go to Amazon and buy the book or go to Amazon and buy my CD or whatever, download it. Probably a very small percentage I am finding and you are probably aware of this too, that the response the conversion rate for anything electronic these days is a tiny fraction.

00;33;17;17 – 00;33;18;04
Anika

It really is. Yeah.

00;33;18;06 – 00;33;37;02
Dave Combs

I’ve had people tell me that if you get one out of a thousand people, sometimes that’s a pretty good hit rate because what they do is they just it’s a shotgun approach. You send out a million emails, you get 1% back was pretty big number, but it’s nowhere if you got back. What I did when I started out you’d be a gazillionaire.

00;33;37;02 – 00;33;37;11
Anika

Yeah.

00;33;38;16 – 00;33;48;10
Anika

Well, and to that point, so you have released- you really started releasing an album every single year. How many songs have you created?

00;33;48;20 – 00;34;09;27
Dave Combs

I have personally written over 120. Oh my God. And Gary Prim and I have been in the studio recording over 170 because several of the songs that we recorded, I have four albums of favorite hymns. Of course, I didn’t write those and I have an album of favorite songs like Moon River, Misty and more, all the pretty songs that I grew up enjoying.

00;34;10;07 – 00;34;36;17
Dave Combs

And then I have a patriotic album called Celebrate Freedom, and I have a Christmas album as well. So I’ve got, you know, seven originals for hymns and the patriotic, you know, so I’ve got several, but I’ve recorded over 170. Oh, my gosh. And all of those are available to be streamed and downloaded on virtually every one of the media, the mediums that people are used to going and getting their music and even sheet music.

00;34;36;26 – 00;34;53;29
Dave Combs

I had to go because there are piano players in the world like me every time when I was growing up playing the piano, if I heard a beautiful song first time on the piano, on the radio, I wanted to go by the sheet music because I wanted to play that song to, you know, think about the theme from Love Story, think the Henry Mancini wrote.

00;34;54;19 – 00;35;15;14
Dave Combs

That’s a beautiful song to play and it’s not that hard, but it sure is a pretty song. Well, I needed to do the same thing with my music. So very soon. Well, the second thing I did after getting Rachel song recorded, I transcribed that song that Gary played, and that was his arrangement. So it wasn’t I was not the one that wrote out the notes.

00;35;15;22 – 00;35;36;06
Dave Combs

I had to do it by ear. I had to listen to his recording of my song, Oh my God, say what now? What note is he playing on that? And hit a rewind and play it rewind and play till I got every note just right for every measure of that song. And I published the sheet music a sheet music single of Just Rachel Song So Thousand, I think it was.

00;35;36;12 – 00;35;54;24
Dave Combs

I sold 5000 copies of just the individual sheet music song. People wanted to use it to play in weddings. They wanted to use it for special music and a church service. They wanted to use it for all kinds of occasions or just for their own enjoyment. They just loved playing Rachel’s song

00;35;54;24 – 00;35;59;04
Anika

And movies?

00;35;59;10 – 00;36;24;29
Dave Combs

And well, I have never had my music played for movies. I’ve hoped that it would initially. And a long time ago I had people say, Well, that sounds like a theme song for a love story movie. And I would have it probably would have been nice to have had a big star, you know, a great big hit movie that we played Rachel’s Song as the theme song.

00;36;25;21 – 00;36;50;04
Dave Combs

But in Lincoln, thinking back about it, it probably was a blessing to me that that did not happen. Because when you basically write music for a movie or a big production most musicians lose control of the song that the movie company is going to want to own the rights to publish and sell that music is associated with their movie, and then you would lose control.

00;36;50;04 – 00;37;12;19
Dave Combs

But so far, knock on wood, I still own 100% of the intellectual property of all of my music. Nobody has ever- I’ve never collaborated with anybody else, for they own half of the song and I only own half of it. I still own all of it. So I’m in control as an entrepreneur. I can do put it up on YouTube myself, or I can put it wherever because I own the song.

00;37;12;25 – 00;37;20;19
Dave Combs

Yeah, and I think that’s a blessing in disguise, at least looking back on it, it was I’m glad that nobody ever picked it up, maybe.

00;37;21;11 – 00;37;54;10
Anika

Yeah. But you know, I love the way you tell your story and it’s the way that you are leaving the narrative. It seems like everything is just built upon each other. But I have to say, going back to when you were young, having that entrepreneurial drive, being interested in how things work and having that attitude that’s that set you out on that path to success, and to be able to not just make one song and stop there, but to be, and well-

00;37;54;12 – 00;38;33;19
Anika

And also your love of music, obviously, but to be able to continue and to be so prolific. I think there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have done that, especially you had a day job you have a busy life, you have a family, you have church, you have all these other things going on. But to stay in that space and that zone of inspiration and to continue inspiring others, and I know that’s something that is one of your discussion topics is how much music has moved people and how it has inspired people and how it’s helped them, you know, sometimes in very tough times to get to that next stage of their life and to

00;38;34;03 – 00;38;43;15
Anika

to continue and to feel like, you know, like they mean something and that there’s somewhere for them to be and somewhere for them to belong and go.

00;38;44;05 – 00;38;49;05
Dave Combs

Yeah, exactly. Because I have heard from over now over 50,000 people.

00;38;49;05 – 00;38;50;17
Anika

oh my gosh.

00;38;50;17 – 00;39;14;17
Dave Combs

Now if you want to see what 50,000 letters and like I do have a photograph of my wife and I got our boxes out because we kept all of these letters and notes that are in boxes by year back in my storage room here and I had enough of these boxes and these are like moving, you know, the boxes you use when you’re going to move for I put them on my pool table.

00;39;14;17 – 00;39;35;03
Dave Combs

I’ve got a, you know, a nine foot pool table out here. And so we put these boxes of these letters and notes on my pool table you can’t tell there’s a pool table underneath it. It is. It was stacked full all the way around middle and sides of all these notes and letters that is a lot of correspondence over the years.

00;39;35;22 – 00;40;05;11
Dave Combs

And I published in my book in chapter 21 of my book, there’s 22 pages of just some of the special notes that I got over the years. I selected some that I liked the best and put them in my book. And I love reading those because they’re just so inspirational. They’re, they’re touching, they’re, they’re genuine. They’re from the heart and they’re confirming, they tell me over any time I’m having any doubts or questions about them, am I doing the right thing?

00;40;05;11 – 00;40;33;13
Dave Combs

I’m, I’m hitting a brick wall here. What’s, what’s going on here? I read some of these stories and it’s reaffirming that, yep, you’re on the right path. Just keep at it, keep taking action, and don’t be discouraged. And just remember that now doesn’t mean no sometimes no just means not yet. So anyhow, so those notes and letters really inspired me to really direct my book and to get these stories out to hopefully maybe my story will inspire somebody.

00;40;33;13 – 00;40;55;08
Dave Combs

If I if this podcast just reaches one person that says, OK, I’m getting off my duff now and I’m going to do something with my whatever it is that I’ve been thinking about now for a long time, I want to do something. That will have made it worthwhile to me because you then you really have touched somebody’s life in a positive and meaningful way, and they will benefit from it.

00;40;55;16 – 00;41;18;06
Dave Combs

And you’ll probably never know about it unless they sit down and write me a letter or something. But that’s the kind of feedback and that’s the reward as far as I’m concerned, is to realize that people need these kind of inspirational and encouraging stories to get them to move ahead. And there are three kinds of moments that I have in my book.

00;41;18;06 – 00;41;52;21
Dave Combs

I describe there are defining moments in your life, and those are moments that something happens to you. You have no control over what’s happening. Could be as big as a 911 event in the United States or it could be as, you know, as as small as you know, some accidental something that happened in your life that you really had no control over, whether it’s a, you know, an illness or you met some person that you become engaged with and later marry that person or whatever it is but you something happened that you didn’t control.

00;41;53;01 – 00;42;12;28
Dave Combs

Those are defining moments. Now, there are other moments that we call threshold moments, and those are the moments where you come up to a threshold like a door. And you have to you have to decide what to do next. Am I going to go through that door and take this chance am I going to go take the right fork in the road or the left fork in the road?

00;42;13;08 – 00;42;36;08
Dave Combs

Am I going to just sit here and do nothing or what are you going to do? And so those are really important moments in your life that are really important or can be important of your future success. So those are threshold moments. And the third category of moments I call aha moments. And those are the moments that are so special that you’re sitting there and something happens.

00;42;36;08 – 00;42;57;23
Dave Combs

Like when I heard Gary Prim play Rachel’s song and it sounded as good as anything I ever heard on the radio, that was my aha moment. Now here I was, I still remember what I was thinking I thought, This is it, this is it. Now, I didn’t know what it was, you know, all you know is this this is important.

00;42;58;03 – 00;43;18;00
Dave Combs

This is going to be important. But I don’t where this is going to lead, but this is really, really important. So those are the aha moments in your life. And so I think how you deal with your, your, your, your defining moments and your threshold moments and your aha moments is really important to how you succeed and where you go for the rest of your life.

00;43;18;04 – 00;43;34;26
Anika

Yeah. Yeah. And speaking of that, so you when you’re still working and then you- did the music just take over so much that you said, you know what, I can quit my day job now. I can just be full time in music, which is something you were passionate about but had also turned into a business.

00;43;35;28 – 00;43;42;07
Dave Combs

Well, the the business part of it was, as I was describing, selling the tapes and CDs through the gift shops.

00;43;42;07 – 00;43;42;19
Anika

Yeah.

00;43;42;19 – 00;44;04;13
Dave Combs

Well, that took off in such a manner that I had to hire a full time office manager to help me. I was still working, and so I needed somebody back home. She worked out of my basement in my house, answering the phone, taking orders from gift shops all over the country, and also orders from fans who would call on an 800 number and say, I want to order a CD of Rachel’s song.

00;44;04;13 – 00;44;04;24
Anika

Yeah.

00;44;04;24 – 00;44;34;16
Dave Combs

And so she had to take the credit card in and take down the order and get it ready to ship out. Well, that grew to the point where by 1991, the profits from my music sales were far exceeding what I was making at AT&T now. And I come from a family that my father worked for a large corporation, and my mother worked in an industrial sewing factory, but prior to that they were all farmers.

00;44;34;22 – 00;44;51;03
Dave Combs

So I’m a second generation working for a large company. So Western Electric was a wonderful company to work for, and my family was so happy when I got that job and I was expected and I- people expected me to and I was expecting to work there till I retired.

00;44;51;03 – 00;44;51;22
Anika

Yeah.

00;44;51;22 – 00;45;06;18
Dave Combs

Now you work. You go to work for a big company that’s paying good, whether it’s IBM or GE or some big corporation, you were expected to work there till you earned your 30 year pin and you’re, you’re retired and you know, it’s, that’s that’s your job.

00;45;07;07 – 00;45;34;18
Dave Combs

So for me when I was in and this was 1991 I had been with AT&T 20- going on 24 years. Wow. So I had I didn’t have the 25 year mark yet and I didn’t I wasn’t 50 years old either. I was only 44 years old and so I was six years away from the magic number on the age I was years away on how many years service I had.

00;45;34;22 – 00;45;58;18
Dave Combs

Yeah. So and my music was going through the roof and, and I was having to be 8 hours a day over here and working at my job. And the meanwhile here is my business at home, doing twice what I’m doing at work. And I’m thinking to myself, you know, when, when do I turn loose of my full time job and do my, my music full time?

00;45;59;19 – 00;46;18;09
Dave Combs

So I’m sitting in church one morning. I had been praying about this one of those things that big decision in your life when you’re going to quit your job and do something else full time. And I said, I need to sign it. Lord, I need a sign. Tell me when will I know how will I know when it’s time for me to quit my job and do my music?

00;46;19;06 – 00;46;41;27
Dave Combs

And I’m sitting there and I realize I recalled a letter that I got that week from a fan and it was a letter just a little one sentence letter from a man. And he says, Dave Combs music is what God put you on this planet to do. Signed his name. And I thought, Hmm, was that that man talking to me?

00;46;41;27 – 00;47;06;15
Dave Combs

Or was it the man upstairs talking to me? Yeah. Yeah. And so and I realized I had that wasn’t the only letter like that I’d gotten. People were really saying that your music is really touching people’s lives. And I thought to myself, here I have been expecting the lightning bolt or the thunder to roll and the burning bush and all the big things to happen to really reveal to me that, yeah, now’s the time, Dave.

00;47;06;15 – 00;47;12;22
Dave Combs

Now go do it. And I didn’t realize that, you know, God speaks to us through other people.

00;47;13;11 – 00;47;14;21
Anika

It was right there all the time.

00;47;14;23 – 00;47;32;21
Dave Combs

It was right there in front of me all the time. And I kind of chuckled to myself sitting there in the church, and I thought, Oh, Lord, you probably think I am the densest Christian on the planet, because here you’ve sent me thousands of letters telling me what I need to do. And I’ve been I’ve been praying for the burning bush and the lightning bolt.

00;47;32;21 – 00;47;58;17
Dave Combs

And you’ve already told me a thousand times here what to do. So that after we went home after church that day and I told him, I said, OK, tomorrow I’m turning my resignation into my boss and we’re going to do it. And that’s how I made my decision because it wasn’t a matter of money the money was already overtaking my salary, but it was that that inner drive, that why would you give up working for a fine corporation?

00;47;58;17 – 00;48;00;08
Anika

And Daddy, you know, that.

00;48;00;09 – 00;48;13;14
Dave Combs

Steady income and you know, the insurance and the health benefits, all those kind of things, how can we do this? But it has worked out marvelously. I never looked back I have had not one ounce of regret in making that decision.

00;48;15;09 – 00;48;25;25
Anika

I love it. Thank you so much. This is such an inspiring journey that you took us on. Your story is amazing and beautiful. What’s next?

00;48;25;25 – 00;48;31;10
Dave Combs

Well, that’s a good question here. I’m going to be 75 years old and about a week and a half and.

00;48;31;23 – 00;48;32;03
Anika

Happy Birthday.

00;48;32;27 – 00;48;50;19
Dave Combs

Thank you and my wife’s going to be retiring from her job as controller of the state of North Carolina at the end of June. We hope to do a little bit of traveling now that hopefully the COVID virus is hopefully stays low enough to where we can visit some relatives and friends that we haven’t seen in two or three years.

00;48;50;24 – 00;49;08;19
Dave Combs

So we want to do a little traveling, but my music is still a big priority for me. I am appearing on three or four of these podcasts almost every day, telling my story and trying to get the word out to to people that have never heard of Rachel’s Song or any of my music because yeah, it’s been played millions of times.

00;49;08;26 – 00;49;35;20
Dave Combs

Millions of people have heard it, but how many millions of people are on this planet? There are billions of people on the planet that have never heard my music. So my goal, one of my goals is to spread my music around the world as best I can, because I know when people hear my music in the right environment, in the right place, it brings them peace and tranquility and it reaches into their soul and does something really positive for them.

00;49;35;24 – 00;49;55;13
Dave Combs

And so that’s that’s my long term objective. And thank goodness we have the Internet today, because whether you’re here this morning, I had to get up at 3:00 in the morning for a podcast for our lady in Germany, and she’d already been up for eight, eight or 9 hours, but I had to get up 3:00 in the morning to be on her podcast. Wonderful interview.

00;49;55;18 – 00;50;16;00
Dave Combs

But isn’t it amazing that here we can be right? It looks like you might as well be in the room right next to me because there’s no delay. It’s this technology is really allowed us to communicate with anybody, anywhere in the world just like that. So I’m blessed to have that available as well. And I’m trying to take advantage of that as much as I can.

00;50;16;16 – 00;50;42;28
Anika

Wow. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story with us today. I know I’m inspired. I’ve been on your website. I’m going to do more on your website and listen to a song a few more times and just, you know. Yeah. Gives you this is a great way to just and almost end the week and feel like, OK, I’m refreshed to go into the weekend and continue down this road of inspiration.

00;50;43;09 – 00;51;00;09
Anika

And abundance and really living. I love that you’ve been able to really live in that space of everything you love and enjoy. And that what inspires you can inspire so many. So Dave, thank you so much for being here. Any last thoughts you want to share with the audience?

00;51;00;15 – 00;51;17;16
Dave Combs

I just want to thank you, Anika, for the privilege of being on your program today. It’s been a real joy just to talk with you, and I wish you the best with your podcast and with your audience. And I know you’re going to do well, and I just applaud you for what you’re doing.

00;51;17;20 – 00;51;36;15
Anika

Oh, thank you. Appreciate that. I will have all of your information in the show notes for our audience. So that way they can go to your website, they can know where to find your book and listen to your music. So thank you, everybody, for coming back and listening to this really inspirational episode of Your Brand Amplified. I’ll be back again next week.

00;51;37;14 – 00;51;44;07
Anika

Want more? Check out AmplifywithAnika.com or follow me on socials @AmplifywithAnika.