Ryan “Gooch” Nelson
Making music – no matter what
By Kelly Lin Gallagher

When Ryan “Gooch” Nelson woke up in a hospital bed on New Year’s Day in 2004, he couldn’t move.

Gooch, a Woodstown native, had driven his pickup truck head on into a tree that morning, and crushed his C7 vertebra, sending bone fragments into his spinal cord. “My heart stopped three times from a collapsed lung and internal bleeding,” Nelson recalls. The accident left the then 18-year-old budding musician a quadriplegic.

“I didn’t drink that much, but I was up late,” Gooch says about the night before his accident – New Year’s Eve. He started the evening at a friend’s party, then went to ring in the New Year with his then-girlfriend.

“My friend hit me up at three o’clock in the morning to come get him,” he recalls.

After picking up his friend, they went back to Gooch’s house and went to sleep. The next morning, Gooch “got up, got a shower, played some guitar and was just really relaxed.”

After breakfast, Gooch climbed into his pickup truck to take his friend home and then head back to his girlfriend’s house. It was on that ride when Gooch dozed off and drove his pickup truck straight into a telephone pole.

His injuries were so severe, the medics lost him more than once as he was flown by helicopter to the hospital. Gooch was finally stabilized and survived the accident, but his life was changed forever.

Gooch underwent several life-saving surgeries, but the only part of his body that he could move was his head. His arms, legs, hands and feet were paralyzed. But the teen was only concerned about one thing, and it wasn’t losing the ability to walk.

“All he did was cry that he wouldn’t be able to play his guitar,” says 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.’”

But Eileen had faith in her son. “My mom always said, ‘God doesn’t take away the gifts he gives,’” Nelson recalls. “Turns out she was right.”

Before the accident, Gooch was rarely seen without a six string in his hands. He had began playing in high school and hoped to pursue music as a career. But when Gooch’s hands were paralyzed from the injuries he sustained in the accident, it became nearly impossible for him to play or even hold his guitar.

“My first therapy was reaching up to try to touch my therapist’s hands,” he says.

The first instrument he was able to pick up was a harmonica, because he could simply squeeze the instrument between his hands and move it slightly across his mouth to produce music. And while the harmonica somewhat satisfied Gooch’s love of music, he hadn’t given up on his one true love – playing the guitar.

Gooch worked diligently to relearn how to play the guitar in a totally different way. After a lot of experimentation, he found that he could lay a Fender Telecaster guitar across his lap and play the instrument with a custom-made, amber glass slide that fits onto his thumb. He uses a finger pick on his other hand to play music he writes himself.

Gooch began playing in local bands, but finally decided he wanted to do something different, something all his own. The musician formed his band, Gooch and The Motion, nearly five years ago and has been performing, recording and entertaining ever since.

“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 says. “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.”

Since his accident, Gooch has shared the stage with bands and musicians such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and The Wailers. His debut solo album, “Coming Home,” was released in 2016 on Blackbird Records with nine-time Grammy Award winning producer Joe “the Butcher”

Nicolo, who has worked with artists such as Lauren Hill and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
While writing and recording “Coming Home,” Gooch took on yet another project – a documentary film.

“I got my spinal cord injury when I was 18 and, at the time, there wasn’t much to see out there of another person going through what I was going through,” Gooch says. “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.’”

In 2014 Gooch began filming with Spex of Light Film Studio and director Jonah Stern in an effort to tell his own story of tragedy and triumph. “The Motion: Gooch’s Journey,” a 75-minute documentary, tells Gooch’s story beginning with the fun New Year’s Eve celebration the night before his accident to his life today.

Mario Cerrito III, producer for “The Motion: Gooch’s Journey” and a Woodstown native who attended Woodstown High School with Gooch, was influential in getting the documentary signed to Cinema Epoch – a film studio and distributor based in Los Angeles.

“They expect big things to come of this film because of the story,” says Cerrito. “Cinema Epoch is currently shopping the film to cable platforms and other VOD platforms. Right now it’s available on Amazon Prime.” Cerrito hopes to see Netflix pick up the film.

“His story is perfect for Netflix,” Cerrito said. “It’s very inspirational.”

December 2017
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