South Jersey Musician Overcomes Paralysis to Pursue Musical Dreams

Last Edited:

Motion Gooch Nelson Wilmington Delaware World Cafe Live

Ryan "Gooch" Nelson with the Motion at Wilmington, Delaware's World Cafe Live.

There is motion in music-the movement of the notes, the flow of the chords, and the effect this all has on a listener's body. Ryan "Gooch" Nelson, a musician from Woodstown, believes everyone is a part of this musical motion.

For that reason, his band, Gooch and the Motion, does not merely consist of himself and his fellow musicians, but also the crew, the venue owners, and the fans.

"The Motion is everyone, from the fans to the sound guy to the guys who help us park the van and load in the equipment," Gooch explained. "I'm trying to encompass everyone into the Motion and make it a movement. That's the Motion-me and my cast of merry characters."

Gooch formed his band nearly five years ago and has been performing, recording, and raising awareness ever since.

The severe trauma to his body caused Gooch's heart to stop three times on the way to the hospital

And he does it all from a motorized wheelchair.

On New Year's Day 2004, the then 18-year-old high school senior drove his pickup truck head-on into a tree and crushed his C7 vertebra, sending bone fragments into his spinal cord. He had internal bleeding and his lung collapsed.

The severe trauma to his body caused Gooch's heart to stop three times on the way to the hospital.

Luckily, the teen was revived each time, but once he came to, Gooch couldn't move. The only part of his body he could control was his head.

His arms, legs, hands, and feet were paralyzed, but he was only concerned about one thing.

"All he did was cry that he wouldn't be able to play his guitar anymore," said Gooch's mother, Eileen Nelson. "He wasn't worried about his legs, he was just like, 'Mom, I'm never going to play guitar again.'"

However, a mother's wisdom is priceless, and Eileen had faith in her son.

"My mom always said, 'God doesn't take away the gifts he gives,'" Gooch recalled. "Turns out she was right."

After several surgeries and intense physical therapy, Gooch was able to lift his arms and touch his therapist's hands. However, his own hands were paralyzed, making it impossible to play or even hold his guitar.

He wasn't worried about his legs, he was just like, 'Mom, I'm never going to play guitar again.'

Longing to play music, Gooch picked up a harmonica. He could squeeze the tiny instrument between his hands, and move it slightly across his mouth to produce music. While this satisfied his desire to make music, Gooch still hadn't given up his dream of playing guitar again.

He began to experiment with equipment, and relearn how to play the six string. Finally, he found that he could lay the guitar across his lap and, with a custom-made, amber glass slide on his left-hand thumb and a finger pick on his right hand, he could play.

Gooch hasn't stopped playing since that day. He has shared the stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, the Wailers, and, most recently, blues guitarist Walter Trout at B.B. King's Blues Club in NYC.

Gooch can also be seen on the big screen in the documentary, The Motion: Gooch's Journey, which tells his story from that fateful morning accident to his career as a musician today.

Gooch began filming the documentary with Spex of Light Film Studio and director Jonah Stern in 2014 to show the struggles of balancing his health with his music.

"I wanted to make a documentary that the 18-year-old me could see now and say, 'Hey, there's someone still having fun and overcoming their obstacles,' " he said.

Today, Gooch is grateful to be able to share his music with the world.

"I can't wait to see what happens in the next three to five years," Gooch said.

"I'm just excited about the future and that's what keeps me getting up every day and fighting through these hurdles."

Catch Gooch Live

Sept. 23 - Concert for Peace at 2 p.m., Woodstown Moose Lodge, Woodstown, N.J.
Sept. 30 - Woodstown Fall Festival on Main Street at 2:30 p.m., Woodstown, N.J.
Oct. 23 - The Motion: Gooch's Journey screening and Q&A, Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J.
Oct. 27 - Rowan University performance at 7 p.m., Glassboro, N.J.
Nov. 22 - World Cafe Live at 7 p.m., Philadelphia, Pa.

Also, check out Gooch's debut album, Coming Home, on iTunes or at goochandthemotion.com, and watch his film, The Motion: Gooch's Journey on Amazon Prime.

For more about Gooch and the Motion, visit goochandthemotion.com.

Related: In Their Shoes: Lorenzo Ingenieri