Christopher Paul plays guitar and sings most days in the resort towns of the Lowcountry. He can belt out any one of about 300 hit songs in his repertoire with ease. But it wasn't too long ago that he would run out of breath just trying to sing along to the radio in the car.
In 2000, he suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident that left him paralyzed. Twelve years after the wreck, he still is in a wheelchair. But he's regained enough strength to perform again. He recently released "Beyond This Place," his first album in eight years.
He figures he probably can't play guitar as well as he once could. But that doesn't matter much now. He can still play, still sing. He's still a musician.
"You have to adapt to life. Everybody has things that happen to them and they have to adjust. You realize that you'll have a life, but you'll do some things differently," he said.
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Paul grew up in northeastern Ohio. Horses and cows roamed the family farm. The young Chris was more interested in music. He toted around a small plastic guitar at age 3.
By his teenage years he moved on to the real instrument. He grew transfixed with life on the road. He'd open Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" album and would envision himself in photos of the band on the road. That life seemed good. He remembers one day walking out from the family barn, snow crunching under his feet. For some reason, it just occurred to him in a moment of clarity: "Music is what I have to do."
He found steady work in Nashville for nearly 20 years. He was a studio musician, a guitarist traveling the country with different bands. His wife, Renee, who worked for a technology company, got a lead on a job in Colorado, where the couple had visited a few times. They moved to Boulder. Paul, who had always been athletic since his days playing football and running track in high school, found plenty of reasons to stay outdoors in Colorado. He hiked and rode his mountain bike frequently. On a Sunday morning, he was cycling near his home when a car hit him head on. He woke up four days later in a hospital bed.
The accident did severe damage to the tendons in his arms, but the nerves weren't damaged. The doctors said he would be able to play guitar again. But it required work. At first, his left hand didn't have enough strength to extend his fingers beyond a loose fist. He remembers tedious hours of attempting to flick beans across a table top, trying to get the strength back.
At the time of the accident he was working on his second album, "Journey of the Soul." He had taken a break after feeling burnt out and left Nashville to return home. The album was close to being finished. But then the accident happened. He found that he also lost a lot of strength in his diaphragm. It became difficult to sing. He'd only be able to record for short periods. It took him four years to finally release the album.
"I kept telling myself, 'I've got to do this,' " he said. "Music is what helped me through those dark, early times."
Five years after the accident, he moveBeaufort to be closer to some of his wife's family. He had few connections musically here.
"It was a big gamble," he said. "It was a brave new world."
Instead, he found the community embraced his music. He now plays about six days a week at restaurants, festivals or private parties.
His latest album is all original music -- hopeful songs with a Christian message. It's also his first album with his voice. His friends encouraged him to move beyond just instrumentals after hearing him sing during his concerts. He was a bit skeptical. After all, he's known as a cover artist. Who would want to hear his own music?
"It really made no sense," he said. "The people who come to my shows would rather hear 'Free Bird' or 'Red Solo Cup.' "
If anything, "Beyond This Place" offers a bit of inspiration through music. He's happy to play original songs or another cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd or Toby Keith. The fact that he's still playing is what matters most.
"The day-to-day routine of having a life like this can be a struggle said. "Having a job like this where I can do something I love was incentive to get through the day."