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Members include ChuckBiscuits, drums; DennisDanell, guitar;JohnMaurer, bass;MikeNess, vocals, guitar, songwriter. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.
For rockabilly punk band Social Distortion, gaining national recognition during the eighties punk era demanded an edge. A self described "hard-ass, macho group," Social Distortion grinded its way through Fullerton, California's, punk movement by doing their own thing while committing themselves to their art. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and frontman Mike Ness drew from the sounds of fifties musicians such as Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, and Chuck Berry, and added to them the raw, explosive angst of punk. That mix, along with a willingness to work hard as a band, eventually put Social Distortion into its own arena. The Trouser Press Guide to 90's Rock stated that "Social Distortion was recognized as the sonic template for some of the bands that broke California punk-pop into the big time in 1994."
Ness and guitarist Dennis Danell founded Social Distortion in 1979 while they were in high school. Claiming that they felt they were more of a social band than a political band, Social Distortion said the name just went along with much of their song writing. They began making music with a philosophy that learning to play the instruments was a priority. Jeffrey Ressner from Rolling Stone quoted Ness in 1990 as proclaiming "We were never really part of what we called the forbidden beat, that real thump, thump, thump, one-two-f---- you drumbeat and screaming into the microphone. We always wanted to learn how to sing and play our guitars." Social Distortion live shows initially covered acts such as the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Danell commented on their simple, heavy guitar sound in an interview with an Earwig writer, "I credit that to the fact that we grew up in Fullerton, which is where Fender guitars come from. So we'd always been around that, and we always wanted a heavy, vintage kind of tube sound, but as intense as possible. And we try to keep it as simple as we possibly can, and not let other things mask what we're trying to do." Common among punk and alternative groups, the Sex Pistols were a preeminent influence. Ness stated in an interview by Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy, "When I heard the Sex Pistols ... those guys sounded like I felt. I fell in love with it."
Social Distortion's first incarnation was completed by Brent Liles on bass and Derek O'Brien on drums and vocals. Their debut, 1983's Mommy's Little Monster,was put out amidst Ness' heroin addiction which nearly took his life and wreaked havoc on the career of the band. Liles and O'Brien left the group during those turbulent years, but were replaced by drummer Chris Reece and bassist John Maurer in 1984. Alex Ogg stated in The Rough Guide to Rock, "by 1984 Ness's drug problems were devouring most of the band's income, and they practically vanished from view, with only the occasional Los Angeles or San Francisco date to keep any memories alive." Finally in 1988, Ness claimed to have quit his addiction, later telling Chris Mundy of Rolling Stone"My life got better the day I stopped...." Their 1988 offering, Prison Bound, seemed to be a work created from a feeling of camaraderie with Johnny Cash as it contained a heavy acoustic guitar sound and a significant country influence.
Miraculously surviving the chaos of the early eighties, Social Distortion worked hard during the nineties, putting out their first major label album, Social Distortion,along with an EP entitled Story of My Life...and Other Storiesin 1990. Ness and his fellow band mates did what they had to do to keep things going. Ness painted houses, Maurer worked in a barber shop cutting hair for at least eight months before heading back into the studio for their next project.1992's Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, a chronicle of life on the streets, broken hearts, punks, addictions, and lost innocence, continued their three-chord, straight-up rock style of expression even while letting up on the savage electric feel of Social Distortion.
A collection of singles from their early days in 1981 were gathered, along with a few compilation tracks, for a 1995 release, Mainliner (Wreckage from the Past). It was obvious from the previous work that Social Distortion was cutting their own path through the punk landscape. Even while many others were cranking out the hardcore stuff in the early eighties, Social Distortion's rockabilly punk sound was distinctive. After their sensitive and reflective White Light White Heat White Trash in 1996, Chuck Biscuits, a former member of such pioneering bands as DOA, the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and Danzig, was added as the new drummer. Danell commented in an interview with Miami New Times' Georgina Cardenas on the group's return to their punk roots for the 1996 release, "We went back to our punk roots because we thought punk was getting lost in the alternative onslaught.... All these alternative bands are supposed to be part of the punk movement, but we just don't see it; we don't feel that what they do has anything to do with punk."
Even though Social Distortion's music has been flavored with vintage rock and roll, the group kept up with modern times by broadcasting a live concert over the Internet. Late in 1996, a sold-out show at the Hollywood Palladium was available for viewing on the Web. Social Distortion captured their live sound from three concerts played in Southern California and released a project in 1998 entitled Live at the Roxy. Returning to the small label recording company, their live album was released by Time Bomb.
Despite the commitment and hard work over their 20 year career, Social Distortion has produced only one gold album. Even though the group lacked the exposure of having cover shots on Rolling Stone and appearances at the Grammy Awards, Ness seemed to take the band's limited success in stride by stating to Michael Gelfand of Allmusic Zine, "I probably wouldn't go [to the Grammys] anyway, but it's the point. You want the credibility and the acknowledgment." However, he also stated that he was proud of their gold record and he was grateful that he has not had to paint houses for about ten years. Members of the band appeared to be ordinary people with common hobbies and interests. Danell enjoys mountain biking, riding motorcycles, and playing poker. Ness collects `50s atomic paraphernalia and various religious figures. However, Maurer was slightly more unique in his pursuits as he was licensed as a cosmetologist. Also, both Ness and Danell moved to different areas in their life when they fathered children. They said the move was something new and that it did not take anything away from their philosophies; they were just viewing the world with a different perspective.
Some band members took their Social Distortion experience and progressed into other pursuits. In 1995, the group purchased an Orange County, California, recording studio where they recorded their first two albums. The guys were going to give local bands help with establishing themselves. Maurer did some musical work on his own. He started an independent label, Slip Records, which was something he had wanted to do for many years. The label put out work from punk and acid bands such as Hellbound Hayride's Sinner. Ness released two solo albums in 1999. The first, a roots-rock project was titled, Cheating at Solitaire. The second album was entitled Under the Influence. Gelfand said Ness stated "It was very necessary for me to do this record [Cheating at Solitaire] to just let that stuff out. I felt it was very bottled up inside me, and it was very therapeutic to get it out." Recording for the roots-rock album was done with old style equipment in order to capture the rockabilly sound as well as possible. Ness hoped that the break from Social Distortion provided by his solo work would refresh him for a return to the studio with the band.
by Nathan Sweet
Social Distortion's Career
Group formed in 1979 in Fullerton, CA; recorded several singles in 1981; debut album, Mommy's Little Monster, released in 1983; signed with Epic, released Social Distortion,1990; live release, Live at the Roxy,released, 1998; Mike Ness' solo release, Cheating at Solataire, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Mommy's Little Monster 13th Floor, 1983; released Triple X, 1990; released Time Bomb, 1995.
- Prison Bound Restless, 1988; Time Bomb, 1995.
- Social Distortion Epic, 1990.
- Story of My Life...and Other Stories (EP), Epic 1990.
- Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell Epic, 1992.
- Mainliner (Wreckage from the Past) Time Bomb, 1995
- White Light White Heat White Trash 550 Music/Epic, 1996
- Live at the Roxy Time Bomb, 1998.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, The Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- musicHound Rock, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
- Rolling Stone, May 31, 1990, p. 34; July 9-23, 1992, pp. 32-3.
- "Mike Ness: Life Beyone Social Distortion," Allmusic Zine, http://www.allmusic.com (September 26, 1999).
- Earwig, http://earwig.com (December 9, 1999).
- "I Wanna Be Distorted," Miami NewTimes.com, http://www.miaminewstimes.com (July 31, 1997).
- The Rough Guide to Rock, http://www.roughguides.com (December 9, 1999).
- Social Distortion home page, http://www.socialdistortion.com (December 9, 1999).
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