Some bands are really just a frontman with a revolving cast of backing musicians. That description could fit Social Distortion. Mike Ness founded the Fullerton, CA, band and eventually became the only original member though guitarist Dennis Danell had a twenty-two year run with the band.
Ness put Social Distortion together in '78. He insisted that Danell join the band on bass - even though Danell had never played an instrument. That caused the other members to bail but they were replaced and the group began recording in '81. When KROQ-FM DJ Rodney Bingenheimer put the group's song "1945" on his "Rodney On The ROQ" compilation, the group's Orange County profile rose significantly.
In '82, Danell moved to rhythm guitar and Social Distortion, which now included bassist Brent Liles and drummer Derek O'Brien, embarked on their first national tour. That trek, with Youth Brigade, was documented for the film Another State Of Mind. It was during this period that Ness' heroin addiction took hold.
Following the tour, Social Distortion recorded their full-length debut "Mommy's Little Monster" which was released on the group's own label, 13th Floor.
Liles and O'Brien left in dramatic fashion, during a New Year's Eve show, and subsequent replacements didn't last long either. Ness bounced in and out of rehab and even did jail time.
Ness' troubles put the band on hiatus which prevented them from leveraging their appearance in Another State Of Mind, finally released in '84.
Social Distortion re-grouped in '86 and released their sophomore set (five years after their debut), "Prison Bound." Aside from getting some local radio airplay the album had little commercial impact. Still. Social Distortion was picked up by Epic Records which meant they no longer had to self-finance their albums.
Attempting to describe the group's sound the term "Cowpunk" was coined. Essentially, it was Punk with Country influences. This tendency would become more pronounced on their next effort.
Social Distortion's self-titled third album dropped in '90. "Ball And Chain" and "Story Of My Life" were the singles but the album also contained a searing cover of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring Of Fire." Two years later, "Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell" featured "Bad Luck" and "When She Begins." The album sold better than its predecessor. But rather than capitalize on this, the band went on hiatus again issuing a compilation of pre-"Mommy's Little Monster" material entitled "Mainliner: Wreckage From The Past" in '95.
Though work on Social Distortion's fifth album began in '94, "White Light, White Heat, White Trash," didn't arrive until two years later. The '96 set was the last studio effort with Danell who passed away at his Newport Beach home in '00 after apparently suffering a brain aneurysm.
'98's "Live At The Roxy" came out before Ness took a solo turn releasing two albums, "Cheating At Solitaire" and "Under The Influence."
Former Youth Brigade guitarist Jonny Wickersham replaced Danell, who died of a brain aneurysm at age 38 in '00, and drummer Charlie Quintana was brought in. With these additions, Ness and bassist John Maurer, released '04's "Sex, Love And Rock 'n' Roll." But before the album was out Maurer decided he wanted to spend more time with his family (Social Distortion had an intense touring schedule) and was initially replaced by Rancid's Matt Freeman but it was Brent Harding who proved to be the long-term solution.
Ness broke his wrist skateboarding in '06 which required picking up another guitarist, Ron Emory, for touring. That was inconvenient but the following year turned tragic when Liles was killed after being hit by a semi-truck while dirt biking in Placentia, CA.
Social Distortion's turmoil continued in '09 as Quintana bailed after a ten-year stint. Angels & Airwaves' Adam "Atom" Willard was named the band's drummer. Typically, he didn't last long. During the recording of "Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes" scheduling conflicts arose with Angels & Airwaves so Scott Reeder sat-in for the group's South American tour. Then in July, '10, Reeder was out and David Hidalgo, Jr was in.
"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," was how Ness described the '11 release "Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes" in a Spinner interview. The album, issued by Epitaph Records, was originally planned to drop in November '10 but came out the following January.
But before that happened, Social Distortion made their network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! For the 12/06/10 show they performed "Machine Gun Blues" and "Story Of My Life."
1983 Mommy's Little Monster
1988 Prison Bound
1990 Social Distortion
1992 Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell
1995 Mainliner: Wreckage From the Past (Compilation)
1996 White Light, White Heat, White Trash
1998 Live At The Roxy
2004 Sex, Love And Rock 'n' Roll
2011 Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes