Lancaster singer battles memory loss to sign record deal
Gina Miller waited her whole life for a record deal. But when the opportunity came, she didn't know if she'd be able to take it.
Gina Miller waited her whole life for a record deal.
The 50-year-old Lancaster singer made a living as a cardiology technician and nurse and volunteered her time as an EMT. But in those spare moments when she wasn’t practicing medicine, she was always practicing music.
Miller got her start performing in the church choir or at funerals. And as she got more serious about music, she started traveling back and forth to Nashville for songwriting workshops, contests and conferences.
Before she knew it, she was discussing her song lyrics with Grammy winner Linda Davis (Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott’s mom), recording her first EP with a producer she met in Nashville and performing at EMS memorial services and shows across the country.
She was on her way.
But when the call finally came last year offering her a record deal with Playback Records – a label owned by Jack Gale who produced music for country legends like Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker and Johnny Cash – she feared she wouldn’t be able to take it.
Just a year earlier, Miller suffered a serious head injury from her third auto accident in five years. She was still recovering from heart surgery and other injuries related to her second accident when she was hit for the third time.
The head injury caused memory loss and problems focusing, Miller said. And, even though she’d been recovering for about a year when she got the call from Playback Records, she didn’t know if she would be able to remember her songs well enough to play for a label.
Just days after the accident, Miller tried to get back on stage and perform. But her injuries were worse than she thought.
“It killed me,” she said. “I had such a horrible headache. I got through the show, but it was horrible and really painful.”
Still, she tried to keep going.
“I was trying to do a girls’ band, keep my band together and work, and I wasn’t giving my brain a chance to heal at all,” she said. “I was irritable and emotional. Nothing was in check. Even holding a conversation with me was a nightmare.”
Even short performances became too much to handle. Miller said she started passing up on more gigs than she could count, gave up playing the guitar because it made her fingers go numb, and took a year off from her job as a school nurse at Technical College High School in Downingtown.
She wasn’t going to give up her dream of signing with a label, too.
“When your life flashes before your eyes more than once, you know it’s only a matter of time before you regret not following a dream,” Miller said.
So, she started going to Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, where music became a regular part of her therapy.
“It has a natural healing effect for your body,” Miller said. “I’ve always been one of those people if you pop music on, I immediately relax.”
It helped with her memory loss, too, she said.
“I would challenge myself to learn new songs to help with my memory,” she said. “I was using music as a means to stimulate memory and hold onto things.”
With each session, she slowly began to learn the music she wanted to record for Playback Records and color code her keyboard so she could remember the notes. And once she could tolerate the drums again, her therapists encouraged her to start practicing again with a band.
“Just being with them and working on songs again was just relaxing,” she said. “And my creativity was still there, thank God. So, I could still write.”
Miller signed the record deal in August of 2015, and by November she’d recorded her sophomore EP, “Angel from Montgomery.”
“I only recorded four songs because that’s all I could handle because of the head injury,” she said. “I’m still working my way back slowly. I’m getting there.”
On June 12, Miller and her new band Division Highway will perform an EP release party in New Holland to celebrate her first performance with the band and her first set of songs released since the accident.
The EP stays true to Miller’s Lady Antebellum-influenced, modern country style, she said, and includes her original song “Smitten,” which she co-wrote for her husband, three cover tracks and a music video.
She titled the EP after the 1971 John Prine song “Angel from Montgomery,” which she said relates perfectly to what she’s been going through in her life.
“I picked it for the label because it’s about a lady who’s unhappy with her life in an unhappy marriage and she just wants to fly away out of Montgomery,” Miller said. “It’s about her leaving and remembering the good times in her life. I took it as, ‘Wow this is like me.’ I just want to get better and fly away from all these health problems and all the pain and ongoing injury things and get back to myself.”
Miller said she’s working toward getting her life back and hopes to release a full album in the next year or two. But even if it takes longer, she said she’ll never give up hope.
“Things have a way of working themselves out,” she said. “You just have to persevere.”
If you go
What: Gina Miller & Division Highway
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, June 12
Where: Garden Spot Fire Dept., 339 E. Main St., New Holland
Cost: $5 in advance, $6 at the door. Children 5 and under are free.
More info: Visit www.ginasong.com.