You Can't Stop Them

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

It’s always good to see one of the original punk bands still going strong.  Social Distortion was one of the bands to come out of the Orange County punk scene in the late 1970s.  Almost thirty years later, despite many personnel changes and several splits, the band is still recording and touring. You can see Social Distortion on Friday evening at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and hear songs from their latest CD, “Sex, Love and Rock & Roll.”

Back around 1976, a new style of music was emerging in the underground club scenes of London and New York.  The loud, thrashing guitars and angry vocals of punk rock drew legions of followers among teenagers and soon, a scene began to develop in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  In 1979, 17 year-old Mike Ness formed Social Distortion with his friends Casey Royer and Rikk and Frank Agnew.

Punk rock and Orange County’s suburban sensibilities proved to be an uneasy mix, with police viewing the fans of punk as some kind of rowdy, violence-prone gang.  Punk clubs were often raided and closed down, and Social Distortion’s first ever gig, at a house party in Yorba Linda, ended with Ness’s arrest for spitting at a police officer. 

In the early 80s, the band began to get exposure through a show on KROQ-FM which highlighted local punk bands.  At around this time the band began its series of lineup changes, with Dennis Danell joining as bassist and the Agnew brothers leaving to form the Adolescents.  By 1983 the band had achieved both national recognition for its album “Mommy’s Little Monster” and a degree of notoriety for Ness’s repeated arrests on fighting and drug charges.  In 1985, after a series of hospitalizations and jailings, Ness entered rehab and the band broke up.

In 1988, the now clean Ness reformed Social Distortion and the band released “Prison Bound.” This album showed a more mature side of Social Distortion.  The musical palette was broader, showing country and rockabilly influences and the lyrics contained reflections on Ness’s life and general musings on impulsiveness.  Although the album was not a strong seller, the title track received radio play and the following year the band signed to major label Epic, where it released “Social Distortion” the following year.

Problems hit the band again in 2000 when long time band member Danell died of a brain aneurysm, but rather than splitting the band up, Ness recruited Jonny Wickersham as a replacement and Social Distortion continued to tour and record.  The band released “Sex, Love and Rock & Roll” last year and is currently writing and recording material for an as yet untitled album to be released in late 2006.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, November 10, 2005

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