Social Distortion Biography

Formed in Fullerton, Orange County, California, USA, in the summer of 1978, Social Distortion initially featured Mike Ness (3 April 1962, Stoneham, Massachusetts, USA; guitar), Casey Royer (drums), and the Agnew brothers, Rikk (vocals/guitar) and Frank (bass). That line-up only lasted until the following year, at which point the Agnews and Royer departed for fellow Fullerton band the Adolescents. Dennis Danell (d. 29 February 2000, USA) then joined on bass, and Ness took over vocals (following experiments with a singer titled Dee Dee), and ‘Carrott’ replaced Royer. However, this remains a simplification of the band’s early line-up shuffles, with other members including Tim Mag (later DI) and Danny Furious (ex-Avengers).

After impressing Robbie Fields of Posh Boy Records at a party in Fullerton in 1981, the band booked studio time through him to record their ‘Mainliner’ 7-inch. This was a one-off affair, however, and afterwards the band moved on to their own 13th Floor Records label, also picking up a new and more permanent drummer and backing vocalist, Derek O’Brien (also DI). By this time Danell had switched to rhythm guitar, with Brent Liles (b. 7 September 1963, USA, d. 18 January 2007, Placentia, California, USA) becoming the new bass player (making the band a quartet once more). This line-up would last until 1984, spanning the recording of Mommy’s Little Monster. A superb punk rock debut, this collection revealed more cohesion and tradition than the band’s immediate peers, with a sound tracing its heritage back to the Rolling Stones as much as the Sex Pistols. It seemed that Social Distortion had all the ingredients to popularize hardcore (‘Another State Of Mind’ was achieving plays on MTV long before punk bands were fashionable in that medium), but their breakthrough was delayed by Ness’ increasing use of hard drugs. The band practically disintegrated as a result. O’Brien joined DI permanently, while Liles fled for Agent Orange in 1985. Their replacements were John Maurer (bass) and Chris Reece (drums, ex-Lewd).

After attending detoxification clinics, Ness finally made a comeback with 1988’s Prison Bound. A mature, less strident effort, it saw the band flirt with country on tracks such as ‘Like An Outlaw’, returning to a revved-up Rolling Stones blueprint for a cover version of ‘Backstreet Girl’ as well as sharp original songs. It also signalled a move towards conventional blues rock that would come to fruition with successive albums for Epic and Sony Records. The best of these was 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell, by which time the multi-tattooed Ness had moved into prime rockabilly mode, with lyrical inspiration taken from his battles with drink and drugs: ‘I live my life for six months as well as I know how, then I sit down with my guitar and it kind of comes out.’ In the light of this, songs such as ‘Born To Lose’ undercut their potential for cliché with the kind of hard-hitting authenticity that had always surrounded the band.

Hardcore veteran drummer Chuck Biscuits joined the band in July 1996, making his debut on the same year’s White Light White Heat White Trash. The album featured a blistering version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Under My Thumb’ in addition to the (almost) radio-friendly single ‘I Was Wrong’. Ness released his solo debut, Cheating At Solitaire, in spring 1999. Danell died the following February of a brain aneurysm. He was replaced by Jonny Wickersham while Charlie Quintana took over from the absent Biscuits. This line-up returned to the studio to complete recording of the band’s long-delayed new album, Sex, Love And Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.