Friday, Nov. 4 – Social Distortion with Chuck Ragan and Off With Their Heads at The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. (305) 673-7300. General admission tickets $35 (plus service charge). All ages welcome. Doors at 7 p.m. Buy tickets | Facebook event
After more than 30 years of living the hard life they document on record and on stage, Mike Ness and Social Distortion deserve to bask in a little success. Frontman Ness and Social D have been slogging it out since 1978, earning the title of punk godfathers for their heartfelt brand of straightforward and melodic roots rock and rockabilly.
The Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes album, released in January, is the group’s most popular ever. It debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 as well as No. 4 in digital album sales, No. 3 in rock albums, No. 2 in alternative, and No. 1 on the independent album chart. It’s the band’s first album in seven years, but obviously the fans have not moved on to the latest trend.
Social D is timeless, like a shot of fine whiskey. And the lyrics are just as stripped-down and honest. It’s also good to see that success has not spoiled Ness, who remains as candid and no-nonsense as any struggling bar band singer. Sure, the music has mellowed and gone a little more country, but the punk fire still burns.
To critics who complain about his more mature direction, Ness has a direct response. As he recently explained to The Orange County Register: “There’ll be some people who’ll probably say, ‘What are they, a classic rock band now?’ Well … yeah, we are! We’ve been doing this for 30 years. You got a (bleeping) problem with that?!”
So, to gear up for Social Distortion’s long-awaited return to South Florida next week, here are a few classic shards of trivia about a band that remains as sharp and biting as ever:
* Original bassist/guitarist Dennis Danell died on Feb. 29, 2000, of a brain aneurysm, leaving Ness as the only remaining original member of the band. The long list of musicians who have played with Social D over the years includes former Danzig drummer Chuck Biscuits, and Rancid bassist Matt Freeman. Ness’ current bandmates are guitarist Jonny Wickersham (who replaced Danell in 2000), bassist Brent Harding (joined 2004) and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. (joined 2010), formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and son of founding Los Lobos member David Hidalgo Sr.
* Original Social Distortion members Rikk Agnew, Frank Agnew and Casey Royer left in 1980 to form The Adolescents, who are also still going strong and performed earlier this year at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach (see photos).
* The band’s first national tour was in 1982 with fellow Southern California punks Youth Brigade, another band that has survived three decades and will be performing tonight (Oct. 27) at Respectable Street. The ’82 tour was filmed for the ground-breaking 1984 punk documentary, Another State of Mind.
* Prison Bound, from Social D’s 1988 sophomore album of the same name, represented a conscious shift toward American roots music and initially cost the band some of its early fans. But the song is now a classic and some consider it the highlight of the band’s live show.
Social Distortion performing Prison Bound
* The band’s famous logo of a skeleton holding a martini and cigarette 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.”
* Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes features a couple of musical firsts. Road Zombie is the first instrumental in the band’s long career. And California (Hustle and Flow) is the first Social D song to include female backing vocals.
* Social Distortion’s 1990 cover of Ring of Fire is the the most commercially successful cover of the Johnny Cash classic, reaching No. 25 on the Billboard modern rock chart 27 years after the song was first recorded by the the country music legend.
Social Distortion performing Ring of Fire at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Sept. 18, 2011
* Writing on the Wall from Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is about Ness’ relationship with his son Julian. The 18-year-old recently joined Social Distortion on stage and played his father’s guitar on Prison Bound at a big hometown show in Southern California.
* In another first, Ness produced Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes himself. Past producers of Social Distortion albums include Dave Jerden (Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, The Offspring) and Michael Beinhorn (Herbie Hancock, Hole, Korn, Soundgarden).
* Ness and Social D show no signs of slowing down or calling it quits. Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is the band’s first album for Epitaph Records, the 30-year-old label started by Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz and featuring a host of punk, alternative, rock and country artists. In January, Ness told the Los Angeles Times: “I have a feeling it’s the beginning of a very long relationship.”
Social Distortion, Story Of My Life music video (1990)