Few stories in music are as compelling as that of Ryan “Gooch” Nelson. Twelve years ago, at age 18, a car accident rendered him a quadriplegic. Five years later, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia. But listening to his debut album, you’d never suspect he was restricted in any way.
Nelson’s low growl has been compared to Dr. John. He plays overhand slide lap-style, with a customized glass-blown tube he wears on his thumb, and he uses a thumbpick on his right hand. While his playing isn’t complicated, it’s effective, and his intonation is surprisingly spot-on.
After hearing Gooch’s music, nine-time Grammy winner Joe Nicolo, who’s worked with acts like Billy Joel and Boyz II Men, signed on as producer – and signed Nelson to his Blackbird imprint.
The repertoire ranges from the swampy original title track to Fred McDowell’s “Shake ’Em On Down,” from Gooch’s country-flavored “Tonight I’m Lonely” to Tom Waits’ “Diamonds On My Windshield,” incorporating the bass line from “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”
Best of all, nothing on this mature, eclectic outing sounds like a caricature or an attempt. When Nelson does country, it’s not an affectation, and when he sings the blues, you better believe it’s the real deal.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s August ’16 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.