Rod Coombes came to music by way of the guitar, which he took up at age 15. After playing in a local band called the Casuals, he decided on music as a career by the time he was finished with school and turned professional at 17, subsequently switching to the drums in the process. His first professional gig was as a member of the Luvvers, the backing band for the singer Lulu. That gig led to his first extended tours, as her career took off behind the hit single "Shout" and its various follow-ups. From there, he moved on to a brief association with the Jeff Beck Group, prior to Aynsley Dunbar's taking over the drummer's spot. At the behest of the Luvvers' former bassist, Speedy King (later a member of Cliff Bennett's group Shanghai), Coombes moved on to a soul group called Trifle — the latter had evolved out of a beat-era R&B-based band called George Bean & the Runners, and Coombes replaced the latter band's drummer, future Procol Harum mainstay B.J. Wilson. The group cut records for United Artists and the Pye Records progressive imprint Dawn Records, including one complete album for the latter, but by 1969 Coombes had left the group.
His interests shifted to more experimental music, especially the hybrid jazz-rock fusion sounds that were starting to coalesce out of the remnants of the psychedelic era. Coombes began collaborating with former Zoot Money singer/keyboard player Paul Williams, and the two eventually joined Juicy Lucy for their second album, Lie Back and Enjoy It, and its follow-up, Get a Whiff of This. After a stint with Spooky Tooth and soul singer Roy Young — including playing on the latter's second album, Mr. Funky, in 1972 — Coombes passed through the lineup of Riff Raff, lasting long enough to cut the Outside Looking In album, which was unreleased until 1999. At that point, he decided to take time away from performing and recording to work on developing his other musical skills. He next turned up in the original lineup of Stealers Wheel, playing alongside an old friend, guitarist Paul Pilnick, whom he'd known since his days playing behind Lulu. In addition to playing on the hit that became their signature tune, "Stuck in the Middle With You," Coombes also helped on the arranging of that record and other parts of the album.
As was the case with Stealers Wheel across its history, the lineup didn't last long, and Coombes wasn't there for the second album. But by then, he'd been recruited by Dave Cousins into the new lineup of his band, the Strawbs — the latter group, whose history went back to the mid-'60s, had just imploded, with core members John Ford and Richard Hudson going their way (and keyboardist Blue Weaver exiting as well), just as the band was coming off of the two most successful years in its history. Cousins was trying to maintain the creative and commercial momentum built up by their previous three albums and a pair of hit British singles — Coombes was the first man chosen for the new membership.
Coombes made his debut, along with fellow new members John Hawken and Chas Cronk, on Hero and Heroine, which was the hardest rocking album the band (originally a folk-based outfit) had ever issued, and opened a new era in its history. With Coombes' drumming and a lot of wattage at the core of their sound, the Strawbs managed a valiant struggle against the encroaching waves of punk and disco music until the end of the 1970s. He also authored songs that were recorded by the band, in keeping with Cousins' more open approach to songwriting by other members. The Strawbs were Coombes' longest group involvement of his career, ending in 1977 after Burning for You. He did a stint with the band Mainsqueeze, but most of his appearances on record have been through reissues of the work of the Strawbs, Stealers Wheel, et al. In 2004, the mid-'70s lineup of the Strawbs, including Coombes, re-formed for a tour. ~ Bruce Eder