Left to right: Harding, Hidalgo, Ness, and Wickersham in 2011
|Also known as||Social D, Sx Dx|
|Origin||Fullerton, California, U.S.|
Social Distortion is an American punk rock band formed in 1978 in Fullerton, California. The band currently consists of Mike Ness (lead vocals, lead guitar), Jonny Wickersham (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass, backing vocals), David Hidalgo Jr. (drums), and David Kalish (keyboards).
Social Distortion went on a temporary hiatus in the mid-1980s, due to Ness's drug addiction and troubles with the law which resulted in extended stints in various rehabilitation centers that lasted for two years. Since its inception, the band lineup has been a virtual revolving-door of talent with many members coming and going – Ness has been the only constant member. After 43 years of performing, Social Distortion continues to tour and record music.
To date, Social Distortion has released seven full-length studio albums, two compilations, one live album, and two DVDs. They released two albums — Mommy's Little Monster (1983) and Prison Bound (1988) — before signing a three-album contract with Epic Records in 1989. Social Distortion rose to fame with their 1990 self-titled third album, which produced their well-known hit singles "Ball and Chain", "Story of My Life", and the cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", and was certified gold by RIAA. Many of their later albums, including their second gold record Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992), were also well received. They are considered one of the best-selling punk rock bands, with more than three million albums sold worldwide. Social Distortion is currently working on a new album.
Early years (1978–1982)
Social Distortion was formed in 1978 by Mike Ness, inspired by the Sex Pistols and many other British punk bands as well as rock acts such as the Rolling Stones. Aside from Ness on guitar and Casey Royer on drums, early members included Mark Garrett on bass and former Cal State Fullerton basketball player Tom Corvin on vocals. Garrett was succeeded by Rikk Agnew. On the origins of the band's name, Royer recalled "Mike was like 15, trying to play guitar but he couldn't. Social Distortion was named for my distortion pedal, which I gave to Mike to play 'cause back then he was no good."
Their early music was composed by Ness with lyrics by Royer and sometimes Corvin, and many songs were retired after only a few performances. After Corvin left in the fall of 1979 to attend graduate school at Bob Jones University, Ness recruited his high school friend Dennis Danell to join the band on guitar even though Danell had never played an instrument before. When Danell was brought in, the other members left as they did not want to wait for him to learn. Before joining the Adolescents in 1980, Royer and Agnew played with Garrett in a separate band named Social Distortion consisting of Royer on vocals, Garrett on bass, Rikk Agnew on drums, and Frank Agnew and Tim Maag on guitars. The band's first real show was in early 1979 at the Cuckoo's Nest nightclub on Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa, California. Mike and Dennis remained the only constant members for the next two decades with bass and drum members changing every few years. The Adolescents song "Kids of the Black Hole" and Social Distortion song "The Playpen" chronicled this period of the band's history.
Its first single, Mainliner/Playpen featuring Ness on guitar and vocals, Dennis on bass, and Carrot on drums was released in 1981 on Posh Boy, the label responsible for releasing the first singles and albums of many of the local O.C. punk bands. Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ-FM was responsible for much of the radio play in Orange County, California, that punk received in the early 80s, and took a liking to Social Distortion, releasing the single "1945" on his 1981 compilation album, Rodney on the ROQ, Blood on the ROQ in 1983, and The Best Of Rodney on the ROQ in 1989.
In 1982, the band—now consisting of Ness, Danell (who now played rhythm guitar), Brent Liles on bass, and Derek O'Brien on drums—embarked on their first international tour (US and Canada) with fellow punk band Youth Brigade, a trip chronicled in the punk rockumentary Another State of Mind, which was not released until 1984.
Mommy's Little Monster and first hiatus (1983–1985)
Upon its return from the Another State of Mind tour in 1982, they recorded their debut album, Mommy's Little Monster. The album was released in early 1983 on their own label, 13th Floor Records. Mommy's Little Monster includes the title track as well as the song for which the previous tour was named, "Another State of Mind". This was the album that "gained the band a national name in punk circles".
Ness mentions in his DVD commentary that he really had nowhere to stay when he got back to California after the tour ended, so he would crash on the couch of whoever would have him. He details how he plunged headfirst into serious drug addiction and ended up being strung out on heroin for weeks at a time. In 1983, Liles and O'Brien left the band in the middle of a show on New Year's Eve, and were replaced soon thereafter by Ness' high school friend John Maurer and a man named Bob Stubbs. This line-up lasted only a short time until Christopher Reece joined on drums. Ness's drug habit continued throughout 1984 and 1985 as the band continued to gain success with Another State of Mind appearing as one of the punk rarities on MTV, and touring in California and Arizona. As a result of Ness's escalating drug habit and troubles with the law, Social Distortion briefly went on hiatus in 1985. During this time, Ness was in and out of various rehabilitation centers and jails.
First comeback and Prison Bound (1986–1988)
The band reformed in or around 1986, once Ness finished his drug rehabilitation program. It released its second album, Prison Bound, two years later in 1988—over five years after their debut. The album included then-newcomers John Maurer on bass and Christopher Reece on drums. Although Prison Bound never charted on Billboard, the title track still receives extensive airplay on Los Angeles radio station, KROQ-FM.
A notable style change takes place in Prison Bound, which takes on a definite country/western flavor and marks the start of the band's entrance into a style sometimes called "cowpunk." Country legend Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones' honky tonk style became more prominent influences on Social Distortion's music at this time. There are references to Cash and the Stones in the songs "Prison Bound" and "On My Nerves."
Five years had passed since releasing its debut. The success was just beginning and, in fact, taking time between albums became a pattern for Social Distortion. Ness acknowledges in a 2003 interview that it is a little backward, marketing-wise, to play songs for the fans for a few years before recording them—but it has always worked well for them. "We know which songs are going to be fan favorites on the record before we even record them."
Major label years and mainstream success (1989–1996)
After the release of Prison Bound, Social Distortion left Restless Records and signed with Epic. The band then returned to the studio around the summer/fall of 1989, with producer Dave Jerden, to begin recording their self-titled third album, which was released in 1990. It was Social Distortion's first album that was not financed by the band. The album includes the singles "Ball and Chain" and "Story of My Life" as well as a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". The self-titled album fared better than both Mommy's Little Monster and Prison Bound, and is often credited as Social Distortion's best known work, with sales continuing 30 years after its release. It is also sometimes cited as among the best rock albums of 1990—the album is said to "split the difference between rockabilly and Ramones-style punk."
The fourth album, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, was released in 1992. The album included two hit singles—"Bad Luck", and "When She Begins". Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell surpassed all their previous albums in popularity. The album has a similar sound to the previous, eponymous, album, said to be a blend of "punk, blues, country and rockabilly". After the release of this album, drummer Christopher Reece left Social Distortion in 1994 and was replaced by Randy Carr. Carr toured with the band and played drums on live performances until he left in 1995.
The band took another hiatus after the release of Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, and did not return to the studio until 1995. During the break, Social Distortion released a compilation album, Mainliner: Wreckage From the Past (1995), featuring pre-Mommy's Little Monster cuts. It contains two versions of "1945" and "Playpen" from their two indie labels, 13th Floor, and Posh Boy, and also a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb".
In June 1994, the band began demoing songs for the fifth album, then returned to the studio in 1995 to record White Light, White Heat, White Trash, which was released in 1996. The album is said to have taken on a harder sound than those preceding it, and to not focus as much on their previous blues and rockabilly sound. The single "I Was Wrong" received wide radio play and is said to resemble "the classic sound more than any other track on the album". The album also features the singles "When the Angels Sing," which is said to be a tribute to Ness's grandmother, who was an avid supporter of the band, and "Don't Drag Me Down". The album also included a re-recorded version of "Under My Thumb", a cover of the Rolling Stones, as a hidden track. Former Danzig drummer Chuck Biscuits joined the band between the recording and release of the album, and is credited in the liner notes although this album actually features one time Journey drummer Deen Castronovo. White Light, White Heat, White Trash was the final Social Distortion album recorded with Dennis Danell before his death.
Second hiatus, Danell's death and Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll (1997–2004)
In 1997, Social Distortion left Epic and returned to Time Bomb Recordings for the first time in eight years. It released its first (and only) live album, Live at the Roxy in 1998. Social Distortion went on hiatus again as Ness went solo, releasing two albums, Cheating at Solitaire and Under the Influences, featuring song covers, in 1999.
Dennis Danell died on February 29, 2000 in his Newport Beach home after apparently suffering a brain aneurysm, leaving Ness as the only remaining original member of the band. There have been some rumors claiming that the band broke up again, following his death. He was replaced by former U.S. Bombs, Cadillac Tramps and L.A.'s Youth Brigade guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who had previously been Danell's guitar technician. Biscuits also left during that time, and was replaced by Charlie Quintana. After Danell's death, the band continued touring semi-frequently, playing sold-out shows in the Los Angeles area around the New Year for three straight years.
Social Distortion started work on the follow-up to White Light, White Heat, White Trash in 2000, which was originally to be released in the fall of that year, but it was not completed. Since 2001, due to the band's ongoing tour schedule, the album's release was put on hold several times. In the fall of 2003, after completing demos, Social Distortion returned to the studio with producer Cameron Webb to complete the album. Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, released on September 28, 2004, would be the band's first release with Wickersham and Quintana. Just a month before the release of the album, longtime bassist John Maurer left the band to stay with his family, and was replaced by Rancid's Matt Freeman. He stayed until late 2004, and was replaced by current bassist Brent Harding.
Subsequent activities and departure of Quintana (2005–2009)
Social Distortion continued touring on and off between 2005 and 2007. The band was scheduled to headline the Soundwave Festival in Australia in February–March 2008, along with Incubus and The Offspring, but they cancelled their appearance and released the following statement:
Due to circumstances beyond our control, Social Distortion is regrettably unable to perform at Soundwave Festival 2008 in Australia and must officially withdraw from the bill. We apologise for any inconvenience to our Australian fans and hope to make it there as soon as possible.
During this time, the band played with various other bands, including Versus the World, Tsar, Shooter Jennings, I Hate Kate, the Black Halos, Flogging Molly, Nine Black Alps, Supersuckers, Blackpool Lights, the Lost City Angels, the Street Dogs, the Backyard Babies, the Hangmen, the Eyeliners, Cooper, the Stun Gunz, Mest, Bullets and Octane, and the Dead 60s.
In February 2006, Ness was injured and broke his wrist in a skateboarding accident. For several months, T.S.O.L. guitarist Ron Emory and the Hangmen's Bryan Small played guitar while Ness sang with his arm in a cast and sling.
Social Distortion released its first Greatest Hits compilation on June 26, 2007. It includes hit singles from Mommy's Little Monster to Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, yet lacks any song from Mainliner. Along with a new studio recording of the song, "Far Behind", new studio recordings of 6 of their classic songs are included as well. Rerecording these songs allowed the band to own rights to them again, instead of Epic (their former label) owning them. Through iTunes in the U.S., as a download only, the Greatest Hits also includes a new Social Distortion cover version of the Chuck Berry classic "Maybellene". Ness stated in an interview that this Greatest Hits technically means "what was good with radio." Ness also stated in the same interview that "we may follow this up with something that is more essential Social D. – songs that are the band's favorites."
In April 2009 the band announced that longtime drummer Charlie Quintana was leaving the band:
After ten amazing years behind the drum kit for Social Distortion, Charlie "Chalo" Quintana has announced he's moving on to explore other musical opportunities. Charlie had this to say about his departure, "Playing with Social D for ten years was a good time in my life. I was lucky to play on two Social D records and the second solo album, and I am proud to have been part of the band. We hit some spectacular heights which I will never forget – adios amigos!"
A European tour together with the Gaslight Anthem followed in June 2009 as part of the band's 30th anniversary of underground Rock'n'Roll.
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2009–2011)
In April 2008, Ness told Spinner that Social Distortion was planning an acoustic album to be released in 2009, stating "I think it could be really, really neat. It's almost like a Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen/Johnny Cash kind of feel with a punk edge ... but acoustic. Sometimes [the songs] are more powerful stripped down than with full volume." Ness also revealed plans for his next solo album, but he was not sure if it was going to be released before or after the follow-up to Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll or the acoustic album.
In July 2009, Ness revealed to Russian's Tarakany! Bad TV that Social Distortion was planning to enter the studio in December 2009 or the beginning of 2010 to begin recording a follow-up to Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll. In September that year, he confirmed that the album would be recorded in January 2010 at Studio 606, a studio owned by the Foo Fighters. Asked when the album was expected to be released, Ness stated that it would "probably be out" in the spring or summer of 2010.
On December 29, 2009, Social Distortion announced on its official website that it would embark on its first South American tour in April. Ness commented, "The band and I are really looking forward to our tour of South America. From the overwhelming amount of emails we receive from our fans in South America, it's crazy to think that it's taken this long for us to come down and tour. We couldn't be more thrilled to announce that we're finally making it happen and we look forward to meeting our loyal fans in Brazil and Argentina for the first time. We hope to come home with a few new fans as well".
In a February 2010 interview with Spinner, Ness revealed that the band had just tracked 12 songs, and was "going to probably track another five". He says the self-produced, still-untitled album, which he hopes to release before the end of the year, will feature the classic Social Distortion sound – a combination of punk, rockabilly and country, presumably. He explained, "It's funny – the record reminds me very much of Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, but also I'm bringing elements of early New York '70s punk, influences that maybe haven't come out as prominently in my writing in the past. It's a little more Johnny Thunders. Some of the early first wave of punk was very blues-based rock 'n' roll, but it had this urban snottiness to it." Ness also explained what happened to the acoustic album, which was announced back in 2008, "The acoustic thing is just a future project, which I think will be significant and equally important. But as far as the priority goes, it's more important now to get a studio record out that is a regular record". While recording the album, Social Distortion announced in March 2010 that Adam Willard "...will no longer be able to continue on drums...", "...due to many foreseeable scheduling conflicts with his band Angels And Airwaves...". Fu Manchu drummer Scott Reeder filled in for Willard for the South American tour.
On April 1, 2010, it was reported on the official Social Distortion website that the band was taking a break from the studio to rehearse for their South American tour.
On May 20, 2010, Social Distortion updated their Twitter with this post saying, "the album is tracked... finishing up writing and getting ready to head back into the studio to record vocals." The album is said to be a return to their punk rock roots and will focus on the New York punk of the 70s and early 80s.
At a show in Poughkeepsie, New York on July 27, 2010, frontman Mike Ness revealed that the new Social Distortion album would be called Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Despite being planned for a November 2010 release, the band announced that the album would be released on January 18, 2011. They also mentioned that "Machine Gun Blues" would be the album's first single and available for download via iTunes on November 16. On December 6, Social Distortion made their network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! performing Machine Gun Blues and Story of My Life.
Social Distortion joined the ritual at The Voodoo Experience 2011 in City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 28–30, 2011.
Upcoming eighth studio album (2011–present)
Asked in a January 2011 interview with Performer Magazine if Social Distortion intended to record more albums for Epitaph, Ness replied, "I would suspect so, yes." Also in a January 2011 interview with Exclaim, Mike Ness said that there would not be another seven- or eight-year wait between Social Distortion albums. Ness stated, "Although this record is out, I'm going to continue the process of writing so maybe there won't be such a large gap between records. Even when the record's done, it doesn't mean the creativity of writing is." In his interview with Frank Turner, Ness stated that his goal was to make a new Social Distortion album in two years and wanted it to be different than Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. In an August 2011, interview at his home in Los Angeles, Ness said that he did not want "too many years to go by before the next Social D record. I'm really trying to be a little bit more disciplined. That's really what it comes down to. It's not like it takes me eight years to write a record. Once I get out of that mode, I'm out of that mode completely. Then of course, it's hard to get back and write a record. This time, when this record was finished, the creative process didn't end just because the record was done."
In May 2012, Ness stated that Social Distortion was expected to begin writing their eighth studio album in January 2013. On July 22, 2015, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Ness stated that he would write songs then forget them a few days later. He stated that the band were banking on a 2016 release date and that some songs that he considered to be filler were getting praise from his bandmates,
In 2015, the band toured to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their self-titled album.
In a March 2017 interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ness revealed that the band has about 20 new songs in various stages of completion, and said that they range from garage punk to the gospel-inspired. Later that month, he said that he has been "reading and writing, and kind of wrapping my mind around the self-imposed challenge that I've put on myself: that I've got to write the record of my career. So I've got to raise the bar. That's just something that I put on myself because I don't like to just go, 'Time to put out another record' and go through the motions." He also hinted at the band entering the studio in about six months. In an interview with Phoenix New Times, which also took place in March 2017, Ness stated that his goal was to be in the studio by fall, and added, "I have to write the record of my career right now. That's the pressure I put on myself." In an June 2018 interview with Edmonton Journal, Ness said, "I've put a few new songs in the set just to let people know that we're not sitting on our asses at home. It gets people talking, which is nice. But yeah, once we stop touring in November, we'll be ready. I'm thinking that by January we'll be pre-production, but I don't want to rush something out just to get it out."
The band has consistently used as their logo a skeleton holding a cigarette and a martini glass. It is frequently featured in live performances as well as album covers. The logo came from an invitation to a New Year's Eve party that a friend of Ness’ had designed. Said Ness in an April 2011 interview with Rolling Stone: "At the time, I saw that, and it just felt like, ‘That's it right there. It's life and death, it's celebration.’ It just felt powerful."
Musical style, influences, and impact
Social Distortion's musical style began as decidedly punk rock when the band formed in the late 1970s. They are thought to be one of the pioneering bands of the original Southern California punk rock movement out of Orange County, California, and their style closely associated with the Dickies, the Germs, and other bands from that place and time. In the mid-'80s there was a notable change in their style of music – taking more from country music and rock and roll. Mike Ness admits in the DVD commentary from Another State of Mind that he may have even tried too hard on the Prison Bound album. They did eventually find their niche, and the majority of their albums from the mid-80s on to the early '90s are considered to be punk rock or rockabilly – a melodic punk sound that is distinctly – and distinctively – their own.
Social Distortion's music is influenced by bands and artists such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Eddie Cochran, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, New York Dolls, Dead Boys, and the Ramones. Social Distortion have influenced bands such as Pennywise, Face to Face, Green Day, Rise Against, Blink-182, Pearl Jam, Rancid, the Offspring, Volbeat and Thrice. The band began playing with fellow Orange County, California bands such as the Adolescents, China White, Shattered Faith and T.S.O.L.. The music was fast, angry and energetic.
All of Social Distortion's songs are written and sung by Mike Ness. There is a common theme in most of his lyrics about "impulsiveness, its consequences and the hard struggle to overcome".
- Mike Ness – lead vocals, lead guitar (1978–present)
- Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2000–present)
- Brent Harding – bass, backing vocals (2005–present)
- David Hidalgo Jr. – drums, percussion (2010–present)
- David Kalish – keyboards, Hammond organ (2011–present)
- Carey Frank – keyboards, Hammond organ, backing vocals (2019–present)
- Mommy's Little Monster (1983)
- Prison Bound (1988)
- Social Distortion (1990)
- Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992)
- White Light, White Heat, White Trash (1996)
- Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll (2004)
- Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011)
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