On Stage: Nelson meets life challenges with new music

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Ryan “Gooch” Nelson

If you googled the word “resiliency,” an appropriate entry in the search results would be a picture of Ryan “Gooch” Nelson.

Nelson has suffered several major physical and medical setbacks. Back in 2004, he was paralyzed in a truck accident. In addition to being a quadriplegic, he had to deal with leukemia a few years later.

Either one of these challenges might be enough reason for someone to give up on life but the word “quit” is not in Nelson’s vocabulary.

The South Jersey musician has met the challenges head on. He has endured chemotherapy, learned how to get around and, most importantly, found a way to resume playing music. A few years ago, Nelson assembled a tight band called Gooch and the Motion.

Gooch and the Motion play an impressive blend of country, blues, and rock-and-roll straight out of South Jersey.

They released their debut album, “Comin’ Home,” in 2016 on legendary Philadelphia producer Joe Nicolo’s new Blacbird/Universal imprint.

On March 7, Gooch and the Motion will be celebrating their latest Blackbird Records recording, “Outside the Window,” with an “Album Release Party” at City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com/philadelphia).

“Outside the Window” showcases band leader Ryan “Gooch” Nelson’s growth in lyrics and musicality influenced by a life in which he has truly lived the blues.

“I played acoustic guitar all through high school,” said Nelson, during a phone interview this week from his home in Woodstown, New Jersey.

“Back in 2004, I had my accident when I was 18. I crashed my truck in Galloway Township near where I live. I fell asleep and hit a telephone pole.”

Nelson was in bad shape when the rescue crew arrived.

“I woke up three days later in the hospital,” said Nelson. “They told me that I died three times in the helicopter when they were transporting me to the emergency room.

“I had a collapsed lung. I needed spinal cord surgery including plates and screws to hold my neck together.

“I spent six months in a rehab hospital and two years in an outpatient hospital. Now, I’m a C6/C7 quadriplegic.”

A C6 spinal cord injury is one that affects the lower end of the cord near the base of the neck. Injuries to this area of the spinal cord can result in loss of sensation or function of everything in the body from the top of the ribcage on down, including all four extremities, or what is known as quadriplegia.

The C7 myotome is a group of muscles controlled by the C7 nerve. These muscles include those involved in straightening the elbow, lifting the wrist, elongating the fingers to an outstretched hand, and the triceps muscle in the upper arm.

“I’m partially paralyzed in my hands, arms, chest and through my legs,” said Nelson.

“Five years after the accident, I got leukemia – no rhyme or reason. I had to go through the chemo drip — which was hard — but it worked. I’m 10 years in remission.”

Just as the Nelson in the rescue chopper wasn’t about to give up on living, the Nelson who loved playing guitar wasn’t about to give up on music. A bright light started to shine when a friend introduced him to playing glass slide guitar.

“I put the guitar on my lap,” said Nelson. “I put my thumb into a glass slide and a guitar pick in my other hand. I can move my arms around. I get away with sliding my hand up and down.

“With an injury like mine, over time you get some movement back or you learn how to deal with it.

“Learning to play guitar on my lap was trial and error. I got the electric guitar and the slide. Before long, I was playing pretty good slide and writing songs. I can write with my hand or I can use m phone.

“I didn’t play guitar for about two years after the accident. Then, I started a band in South Jersey called 61 North. It was a blues band and we opened for acts like The Allman Brothers and Lynryd Skynyrd.”

That lasted for a while and then Nelson got musically restless.

“I left after about eight years to do my own thing,” said Nelson. “I started Gooch and the Motion in 2015. In 2016, we released ‘Comin’ Home,’ which we recorded with Joe Nicolo at his studio Joe’s Garage.”

According to nine-time Grammy winner Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, “Gooch and the Motion has a one-of-a-kind sound that also makes you nostalgic for artists you’ve listened to in the past.”

“Last year, I started working on ‘Outside the Window’ at my home studio,” said Nelson. “All through 2019, I’d also work on it at Joe’s. I just knocked it out in chunks. I wrote songs – slow and methodical. It makes me tired and weary, but I just push through it. I’m just lucky I get to play music.”

Gooch and the Motion have gone through several line-up changes over the years but are now a stable unit featuring Adam Todaro on bass, Josh Dubois on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Andy Meyer on drums, Mike Pasquale on guitar and Nelson on slide guitar, harmonica and lead vocals.

“I’ve had the same guys in the band for about two years,” said Nelson. “It’s a five-piece when we play onstage, and we added horns and keys on the record.

“The first album – ‘Comin’ Home’ – was about me finding my voice,” said Nelson. “This one is about looking out and seeing opportunities. The first one was introspective. This one is more about what is going on in the world.”

Video link for Gooch and the Motion – https://youtu.be/lnLtq3tOtm0.

The show at City Winery will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Several years back, Jimbo Mathus, the founder of the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, visited the area for a solo show. Mathus had been on his own for the last 15 years.

When he came back to the area last year for a show in April at the Ardmore Music Hall, it was with a band – the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

“I brought the band back in 2016,” said Mathus, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Roanoke, Virginia.

“If I was going to take the time to put something back together, it had to be the Zippers.

“It’s not an easy band to put together – a lot of musicians and a lot of chemistry. There’s nothing out there like it.

“At that time, it was the 20th anniversary of the band’s ‘Hot’ album. Now, it’s then 25th anniversary of our first album, ‘The Inevitable.’”

On March 8, Mathus will bring the “Squirrel Nut Zippers: The Inevitable 25th Anniversary Show” to the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,www.worldcafelive.com).

Between 1995-2000 the Squirrel Nut Zippers sold over three million albums. With grunge, and alternative rock in full swing back in 1995, the Squirrel Nut Zippers debut album “The Inevitable” sounded like nothing happening musically at the time. NPR was the first to take notice followed by an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. The band toured its debut album heavily in North America during 1995 and 1996.

“The Zippers broke up in 2000,” said Mathus. “It was a good challenge for me after that — a challenge to regroup and re-invest in what I’m all about.”

At the time, Mathus had just released “Blue Healer” on Fat Possum Records. It was his 12th solo album.

“When I was approached and asked about doing a reunion tour for the 20th anniversary of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I really didn’t know how to feel about it.

“Then, I thought – I know so many great musicians in New Orleans. I thought I could put together a great band. I cherry-picked the best people I thought could make the greatest Squirrel Nut Zippers of all time.”

The band has evolved a lot over the last quarter-century.

“In the early days, there was a lot of creativity in the band but not that much musical talent. We had a punk rock drummer. A saxophone player who had just bought his sax at a thrift shop.

“Putting together the current Zippers band wasn’t really that hard. I just started making some phone calls. I got guys who have a lot of history with the Zippers along with young guys – fresh talent that was able to fit in.”

Mathus got the players and started to play live dates as Squirrel Nut Zippers. The led to a new SNZ album – “Beasts of Burgundy” featuring Mathus (guitar, vocals), Dr. Sick (fiddle, banjo, various instruments, vocals), Cella Blue (vocals), Vanessa Niemann (vocals), Tamar A. Korn (vocals), Dave Boswell (trumpet), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Aurora Nealand (clarinet), Charlie Halloran (trombone), Colin Myers (trombone), Henry Westmoreland (tenor and baritone saxophone), Kris Tokarski (piano), Leslie P. Martin (piano), Tamara Nicolai (upright bass), Neilson Bernard III (drums) and Chris Phillips (percussion).

“Beasts of Burgundy” was released in March 2018 via the band’s own label — Southern Broadcasting.

“Right now, we’re a nine-piece band including a three-piece horn section,” said Mathus. “This line-up has Dr. Sick, Eddie King, Cella Blue, Tamara Nicolai, Neilson Bernard III, Henry Westmoreland, Leslie P. Martin, Dave Boswell and me.

“Keeping the vibe of the songs from ‘The Inevitable’ hasn’t been that hard. It’s a 90-minute show and we do songs from all our albums. Right now, we have about 70 songs that we can play.”

Video link for the Squirrel Nut Zippers — https://youtu.be/KJzWGkgFcTU.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.

On March 8, there will be another show in the area that has roots extending back more than two decades when the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) hosts  “On A Winter’s Night.”

The venue is presenting a special 25th anniversary concert of “On A Winter’s Night” featuring veteran singer-songwriters Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Patty Larkin, Cheryl Wheeler and Cliff Eberhardt. They are among the brightest stars of the singer-songwriter movement from the past three decades and will be performing all together in one night.

In 1994, Christine Lavin gathered the group together and these artists have released dozens of recordings and toured steadily through the decades, with fond memories of their touring days together.

“The most recent ‘On A Winter’s Night’ was last November with these guys,” said Gorka, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Minnesota.

“That was nine shows. This run is 15 shows. Before then, it had been close to 20 years.”

“The original line-up was Christine’s idea. It was Christine, Patty, David Wilcox and me for the first gig. After that, Christine dropped out. The longest-running line-up was Patty, Cheryl, Cliff and me.”

The project’s Facebook page detailed the history of “On A Winter’s Night” —

“Once upon a time, in 1989, people released their music on something called cassette tapes. And so, it came to pass that Christine Lavin released the first “On A Winter’s Night” collection of songs by her favourite young songwriters on cassette — 1,000 copies of them. It was, in her words, “music you’ll want to curl up with on a cold, blustery night like tonight.”

Christine was already famous in folk circles as a funny, poignant, energetic singer-songwriter from New York City, who championed her fellow songwriters of the burgeoning “new singer-songwriter” acoustic music scene. She plugged the “up and coming” and newly established artists who had grown up listening to Mississippi John Hurt and Pete Seeger, the Carter Family and Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.

The “new folk” scene was alive and well, thank you, most of it operating outside of the auspices of the larger corporate music industry. Christine put the project together on her own dime, and it sold out quickly. That first release featured (list artists or some of them). In 1994 it was picked up by independent record labels and released on CD by Rounder Records. Over the next few years, “On A Winter’s Night,” subtitled “Winter Love Songs” spawned several sold-out group tours with rotating cast members.

The Winter’s Night live show toured the country during the depths of the Winter months. Occasionally there would be a show in Florida, Atlanta, or someplace with sun, but the bulk of the concerts landed the group in places like Minneapolis in March, where walking from the hotel to the theater was like crossing a windblown frozen tundra.

Fast forward to 2014 Rounder Records reissued the 20th anniversary collection of “On A Winter’s Night and included Judy Collins and Dave Van Ronk to the now 20 songwriters on the album.

With the approach of the 25th anniversary of the record’s release, “On A Winter’s Night” is criss-crossing the country once again. This time around old friends Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Patty Larkin and Cliff Eberhardt take the stage to share their songs, drawing listeners into a living room like atmosphere of intimacy. Hearing this group of seasoned songwriters exchange new and old songs, spin tales large and small of the human condition with insight and humor, leaves the listener with a sense of community and a feeling of pure joy.

The music of these veteran songwriters resonates and warms the heart. These five artists are part of the thread that connects them to the past and the present. They are witness to what has gone before, and to what is the ever-evolving constant reworking and reimagining of the form. They are true believers in the art and power of song, troubadours for life, “On A Winter’s Night.””

“Last November, Patty Larkin and Christine Lavin were talking,” said Gorka. “Patty was the real instigator of this project. This is the first time with five people – and maybe the last time with five. Next fall, it’s down to Patty, Christine, Lucy and me.

“When we went on tour last fall, we each did a couple songs and then there was a break. In the second half, all of us were onstage together doing each other’s songs. Each of us got to do two songs in the second half and then a couple songs at the end together.”

Gorka’s most recent album is “True In Time,” which was released early in 2018 on the Red House label with vocal cameos contributed by fellow folk luminaries Jonatha Brooke, Eliza Gilkyson, and Lucy Kaplansky.

“True In Time” is an engaging, personal album that shows the full range of Gorka’s artistry, exhibiting his spirited acoustic guitar playing, insightful lyrics and wry, witty storytelling. The tracks capture the sound of career musicians (and friends) who understand where Gorka’s music comes from and instinctively knew what to contribute.

The album was produced by Rob Genadek at Uptown Sound in Minneapolis.

“The recording went really quickly – three days at the end of July and beginning of August,” said Gorka, who grew up in Woodbridge, New Jersey and has lived in Minnesota for 22 years.

“We recorded it at Uptown Sound the old-fashioned way with everyone playing and singing at the same time. Rob and I tried to gather the best musicians available in the Minnesota area. I was really happy with how it turned out. They left me a lot of room.”

Gorka’s main focus in recent years has been more on the road than in the studio.

“I’ve got two kids in college, so the main thing is staying heathy and touring,” said Gorka. “Financially, touring is the main way to make money in the music industry.

“I don’t have any plans for a new album any time soon. I’ve got several songs written – some unrecorded songs. Songs keep calling me and they’re emerging on their own. But right now, I’m staying busy with my touring.” Video link for “On A Winter’s Night” — https://youtu.be/_u_u2c5qHm4.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $49-$75.

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