Candia woman wows them with country spirit, spunk

Union Leader Correspondent
September 22. 2012 1:19AM
Singer-songwriter Nicole Murphy, winner of the New Hampshire Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award, says her music covers a range of styles from the iconic Patsy Cline to country rockers Sugarland. (Courtesy)
CANDIA - It's been a long trip with a lot of detours for Nicole Murphy, but the Candia resident finally arrived last Sunday when she picked up the Female Vocalist of the Year and Female Entertainer of the Year awards during the New Hampshire Country Music Association's 2012 Talent Search.

Her next stop will be Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where, in March, she'll compete against winners of Country Music Association talent searches from across the country.

'I still can't believe it,' said Murphy who added that she still considers herself to be an average performer. 'I'll probably be really nervous, but nervous good.'

Despite the thrill of taking two state titles, she won't be packing her bags with any big expectations when she heads south next spring.

'I'll be competing against a much younger crowd,' said Murphy who is 46. 'I'll do what I do, but just the experience of competing will be great.'

But if she does bring home a national title, there will be some serious celebrating.

'That would be beyond my wildest dreams,' she said.

Murphy didn't start out wanting to be a performer. Growing up in Clarendon, Vt., her wildest dreams were about competing in gymnastics.

But when her parents brought her to see a doctor for some back pain that had cropped up, she learned her spine was missing four vertebrae. Complex back surgery and a long, grueling recovery put an end to vaulting and leaping on balance beams, and all sports for that matter. So Murphy asked her dad, if she could join his country music band.

'I started singing and writing songs when I was 13,' recalled Murphy, who performed with her dad and extended family at local bars and restaurants. 'It was cool, it was a way for my family to be together.'

She learned to play guitar and sing with some help from her family, and through a lot of practice.

'I can't read music,' she said. 'I do everything by ear. I listen to something a million times, I get the lyrics and I start playing it over and over and over.'

By the time she graduated from high school, she had polished her performances enough to win the talent competition in the Miss Vermont Pageant. But it was after she sang at a wedding and met the groom's cousin, Derry native Bryon Murphy, that her life jumped tracks.

Murphy said it was love at first sight, and the couple was soon celebrating their own wedding. They settled down in Candia and soon were busy raising three children.

Murphy's guitar stayed tucked in a closet for the next two decades, making rare appearances.

'I pulled it out, dusted it off and wrote my husband a song for our 20th wedding anniversary,' she said. But performing and songwriting took a back row seat while she was raising her family.

And it might have stayed that way for good, but four years ago, Murphy started having the same types of back pains she experienced as a child. At a trip to her doctor she heard the news she dreaded. All the work that was done to rebuild and strengthen her spine had broken down and she would need more surgery, bone fusions and metal pins.

'I remember thinking six months with a walker learning to walk again, recovery in a year,' recalled Murphy, who had no other options.

But after the surgery, while she was slowly getting back on her feet, she decided she had some time to spend on herself. She got out her guitar and started playing again, and since then, she hasn't stopped.

Murphy tapped the talent at Candia's Pickin' Parlor, a music store and rehearsal site that draws musicians from all over southern New Hampshire, for some help getting back up to speed.

She took lessons from a talented Berkeley graduate who was stumped by her ability and her lack of formal training.

'Because I don't know them, I'm not bound by all the rules,' she said.

She joined a band and started playing local spots. There's generally more work for bands that can get people up on a dance floor than for solo female vocalists who perform original songs, but Murphy ultimately decided the second category was a better fit for her.

Performing solo has given her a chance to go back to some of the songs she wrote when she was just a kid, and sing them again with a little more perspective. Still, she said she would never close the door on any chances to be part of a band if the right opportunity came along.

She's been a regular feature at the Auburn Pitts, the Lazy Lion in Deerfield, Arnie's Place in Concord and a slew of other bars and private clubs.

She plays regularly at a nursing home, for family and friends but not so much at her day job at Moore School where she works as a teacher's aide for a special needs kindergarten class.

'In kindergarten everyone already sings everything,' she said. 'They sing songs, the alphabet, they sing when they have to go to the bathroom, it doesn't stop.'

And neither does Murphy, who will now be singing her way to Tennessee.

'I could get up and sing for hours if there's someone to listen to me,' she said. 'I love singing, and when I play music, I have no pain, it all goes away.'

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Barbara Taormina may be reached at

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