by Ziggy Merritt
There’s much to be said about the capacity for music to change someone’s life for the better. Movies on the range from the great (August Rush) to the truly awful (that recent Jem and the Holograms disaster) have all tried their best or worst to romanticize it. But then there’s reality where that time-honored conflict-resolution structure does not often produce a favorable outcome. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with Ryan “Gooch” Nelson who in his most recent project, Gooch and the Motion, has seemingly bridged the gap between fantasy and reality by turning tragedy into a surge of success.
A New Jersey native, Gooch was always predestined for a career in music. “I started playing the guitar when I was 12,” he admits. “I’m pretty much completely self taught. I’ve always had a good ear to hear the music, to absorb it and pick it up and play it.”
But in 2004 this career was temporarily put to a halt as he slowly recovered from a car accident that would leave him confined to a wheelchair. He explores some of the aftereffects of this incident on his major label debut, Comin’ Home, a genre-hopping and inspiring blues rock album informed by both Gooch himself and the friends and family that compromise the Motion.
“My guitar player came up with the name, the Motion,” says Nelson. “But after the first concert my mom mentioned ‘the Motion is everybody, the Motion is the audience, and anybody who wants to be involved in what you’re doing is really the Motion.’”
“The Motion” part of Gooch and the Motion is a rotating cast of musicians, many of whom have contributed in some way to Nelson’s debut on the new Universal sub-label, Blacbird. Signing him to the label was famed producer Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo who discovered Gooch through a mutual friend. “After working with him a few times we really clicked and really had something more than a working relationship,” recalls Nelson. “We became friends. he asked to sign me to his label and I was happy to do that.”
From past to present we talked a bit about the composition of Comin’ Home as a result of this collaboration, particularly two of the standouts on the album, “Ramble On” and “Dancing in My Dreams.”
“‘Ramble On’ is a song I wrote with buddy, Bob, who plays bass for me sometimes,” he says. “The origin of the song is having the ability to rise above heartbreak, or struggle, or any bad things that happen in your life. I think the best way to do that is to move on and move forward and not worry about the past constantly, to push that rock up that hill.”
Meanwhile other tracks such as “Dancing in My Dreams” were written and arranged by a few writers in Nashville whom Nicolo had been fortunate enough to get in touch with resulting in its inclusion on the album with Gooch’s deep yet powerful vocals. “The song was about a guy who gets hurt and disabled,” says Nelson on the song’s inherent relatability to his own situation. “It tells you about his sweetheart, his girlfriend who still goes dancing in his dreams. Even when we went to go cut that song we were all in tears when we listened back to it. That’s the essence of what that song is and what it says.”
The fame of his band has allowed Gooch the opportunity to set up a non-profit, the Music in Motion Foundation, which hopes to bring music to those who need it most. “Our main goal is to put on concerts and events that are fun for the community, to raise money for music therapy programs in hospitals, prisons, and rehabs where the music is really needed.”
At his core, Gooch is a musician, one whose past life informs much of his present and has provided much of the groundwork for his willful strength and success. “I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of different musicians,” he admits. “I believe that’s my biggest strength, just sitting and blending in and trying to elevate the music by bringing in my own style, my flavor it to it.”
The wide release of Comin Home is set for February 19th.