- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - “Everybody’s got problems. Lord knows I’ve had mine.”

Those are the first words you hear Ryan “Gooch” Nelson sing on his debut solo album, and he certainly has a story to tell.

Fans already know that the 30-year-old musician was in a 2004 car accident that left him as a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair - a car crash that led him to music two years later while in search of a grounding force.

But what they might not know is that in 2009 the slide guitarist was diagnosed with cancer. Chronic myelogenous leukemia, to be exact.

While it’s treatable, the oral chemotherapy drug he takes each day leaves him nauseous and tired with body aches and chills. And that’s in addition to the 30 or so other pills he takes to keep muscle spasms and nerve pain from the accident at bay.

But when you chat with Nelson or see him play, you would never know about his medical woes. A fountain of positivity, Nelson does his best to push away his pain and focus on his zeal for life and the support he gets from his faith, family and fans.

He wants others with disabilities, health problems or other life obstacles to know that life goes on if you want it to.

Even so, he admits he has down times of his own. And while you probably won’t hear him complaining about them in person, he does delve into his darker side on the album, “Comin’ Home,” which he is releasing under the name Gooch and the Motion.

On “Devil Don’t,” Nelson takes you in and opens up: “Tortured by the demons that live inside my head/I’ve been bruised and battered, beat up and left for dead/I was rescued by the music living deep within my soul/I let it take control.”

It’s a bit startling to hear Nelson’s deep growl expose his demons given his intensely positive outlook. Some who know him best were even a bit surprised. But for Nelson, there is no better way to handle pain and hardships than through song.

“He says he doesn’t feel any pain when he is playing,” says his mother Eileen Nelson, a hairdresser who has been his caretaker, roadie, manager and everything in between.

In recent months, other family members like Nelson’s brother have stepped in to help him in the wake of another cancer diagnosis within the family. Ryan’s father, John, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in August and Eileen Nelson is taking care of him as well.

Nelson’s life changed on New Year’s Day nearly 12 years ago when he drove his Ford Pick-up truck into a telephone pole.

The mid-day accident slammed Nelson’s head into the truck’s roof, compressing a vertebra. Emergency workers found a bloodied Nelson hanging out of his truck’s back window and used a defibrillator several times to keep him alive while he was flown to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

It was there where he was told he would never walk again and where he first had the thought that he wouldn’t play guitar again, even though he had limited movement in his right arm.

“He cried about losing his hands more than losing his legs. He was devastated about not being able to play guitar,” Eileen Nelson says.

But two years after the accident, Nelson’s grandfather gave him an electric guitar and Nelson learned to play slide guitar by laying it in his lap and using a custom-made slide. Soon, he was unleashing gritty, bluesy guitar lines that became the backbone of 61 North’s sound.

Gooch and the Motion’s “Comin’ Home” mostly sticks to the blues, but throws in a hint of country, rock and hip hop. The album will reach store shelves and iTunes libraries in February.

The bulk of the album is made up of originals written by Nelson with a few covers thrown in, including Tom Waits’ “Diamonds on My Windshield,” R.L. Burnside’s “Shake ‘Em on Down” and “Sitting on Top of the World.” It is produced by multiple Grammy-winner Joe Nicolo, who has worked with everyone from Billy Joel and The Rolling Stones to “Fresh Prince” Will Smith and Cypress Hill.

For years, the Woodstown, New Jersey, native has performed in Delaware, mostly with 61 North, including gigs at clubs like Home Grown Café and The Deer Park Tavern in Newark, the old Blue Parrot in Wilmington and even University of Delaware’s notorious Skidfest student bash in 2008.

61 North called it quits last year when other band members began moving away and getting new jobs. In the meantime, Nelson experimented with a duo featuring 61 North bassist Bob Comfort called The Reverb Brothers. The pair played clubs and restaurants in New Jersey and Delaware, including Skipjack near Newark.

With the duo, Nelson began to become comfortable as a singer after years of 61 North’s Brian LaPann handling vocals for the WSTW Homey Award-winning four-piece. Soon, he was hatching his plan for a new act - one that has a rotating group of musicians backing him up.

Nicolo is releasing “Comin’ Home” on Blacbbird Records, his new record label based in the Philadelphia suburbs. He says he listened to Nelson perform with his eyes closed before deciding to do the album, wanting to make sure Nelson’s disability was not playing a role in his decision.

“It holds up. He has one of the most unique voices. It was something different. There aren’t many Gooch Nelson’s out there,” Nicolo says. “I wanted to make this record because he deserves it.”

Nelson admits the burden of his cancer diagnosis and the side-effects of his medication have tested his positive outlook on life at times. It has even caused him to consider whether he wanted to continue with his music.

“There are still days where that crosses my mind. It’s a struggle. Every day. It’s really difficult to live this way,” he says. “But I get joy out of inspiring other people and making them happy. That’s what makes me happy.”

He recently founded a non-profit organization called Music in Motion Foundation, which will host concerts to raise money for music therapy in hospitals, prisons and schools.

Even as the Nelson family fights against cancer on two fronts, Nelson and his mother still have their sense of humor. In fact, it’s one of the things that pushes them forward.

When times are bad, they will reference a sketch from Comedy Central’s Key & Pele show - a segment that found the show’s main characters chained up in a torture chamber saying “It could be worse” and “Not that bad.”

“We say that to each other all the time and then we just start cracking up,” she says. “We’re very much alike. We’ve become more than just mother and son. We’re keeping each other alive here.”

And even though Nelson has enough to worry about, his positivity still acts as a sponge, sucking any sadness from those around him.

“After he talks to people, they walk away feeling good. He has all his pain and takes all their burdens on as well. He has a special spirit,” Eileen Nelson adds. “I can’t tell you how many of his friends come to our house and tell him all their problems. He takes it all in, listens and then writes about it. Just throws it in the music with everything else.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide