By Michele Murphy
Beloved local singer-songwriter Ginny Mitchell said, “I think I was always singing, but when I was three my mother put me in the church choir.” Her brother Bill was her idol. He played drums in the school band, so she did too. Then he took up guitar, so she had to do that as well. She took lessons in sixth grade, learning all she could and playing all the time. “Music meant everything to me,” she said.
At the tender age of 14, Ginny lost both of her parents within the same year, bringing her to Santa Cruz to live with relatives. Ginny carried her guitar — the last birthday present her parents gave her — everywhere and continued to play and sing at every opportunity. Her great grandparents had a home in Ben Lomond and she remembers sitting at the Highland Festival with Johnny Weismuller.
As a young newlywed, she got a gig singing at the posh Banff Springs Hotel where she was approached by a producer from Nashville who offered her recording time at his studio. She met industry greats, and opportunities arose to play at increasingly better venues like the Calgary Stampede. Soon after, she won the Canadian Country Music Association Rising Star Award for the best new artist of the year. Television shows and longer tours, including gigs with popular musicians, followed. Ginny said, “My fondest memories are recording with Alison Krauss, opening for Merle Haggard, writing and singing with Peter Rowan, and touring with Redd Volkaert and Bill Laymon.” During her busiest years she was playing six nights a week, five sets a night. She said, “You either burnt out or got pretty good, real fast.”
When asked what it was like to be a woman in the music industry she said, “To get anywhere in the business, even now, you had to have great players, which meant keeping them working. The hardest thing was trying to do that while keeping my marriage together. I failed pretty miserably at that.” Her bandmates supported her and schooled her. Attending Cabrillo College in later years, she says her real education came from being on the road.
But touring gets old. Ginny said, “To the club owners, your value was reflected in the amount of alcohol you sold. There were times we broke into better venues with higher visibility, but to keep the cash flowing, smaller clubs kept us going. There came a point where I just had to rethink my future.” Taking a different direction, she joined the Mount Madonna Choir, and paid the bills by teaching and performing for the Young at Heart Project singing for seniors. Going back to being a “seeker” and a server, someone who made music for the sake of making it and sharing it, and less for self-promotion and advancement, felt right.
Ginny met Marty Collins, her second husband and love of her life, at his studio in San Jose. “Marty loved music and the arts and understood what it took to thrive as an artist,” she said. Ginny was able to focus more on writing her own songs and collaborating with Marty on video projects. But, as they were about to launch a music television show, Marty fell ill and the project was shelved. Losing Marty five years ago, she has had to set about rebuilding her life again. She has been working on getting the precious footage she has preserved completed for air. (Visit santacruzlive.tv to see Santa Cruz Live TV, Episode 1 .) She’s also staying busy producing an album, teaching (piano, vocals, and guitar), and playing around town. She says, “Life is pretty full, pretty sweet right now. And it wouldn’t be possible without the support of my family, friends, and musical community.”
Michele Murphy is a singer-songwriter from Buffalo, NY and a resident of the Santa Cruz area since 2005. She lives in the beautiful San Lorenzo Valley and is entrenched in the local music scene both as a performer and a fan.
Featured photo by Shmuel Thaler