And yet, against all odds, as a 16-year-old high school dropout and homeless teen, Ness recruited the lineup that would set things on fire musically in 1978. It wasn’t long before Social D would become the West Coast’s answer to the pioneering punk bands/scenes exploding in New York (The Ramones), London (Sex Pistols and The Clash), and Detroit (The Stooges and MC5).
What Ness and his Orange County foursome Social Distortion did to differentiate themselves from the pack was mix a melting pot of hard rock, rhythm and blues, and country. Along with the likes of X, The Blasters, Los Lobos, and others, Ness put Los Angeles on the punk world map.
Move ahead four decades to 2022 and Ness, who just turned 60 in April and is performing two shows with Social Distortion this weekend at Marquee Theatre in Tempe, has not only persevered, he’s outlived many of his punk pioneer compatriots.
“It feels good to be alive,” Ness says in a recent call. “But a lot of that is just we’ve got a good work ethic. We established that by 1986. I got a good work ethic from realizing that if I want to do this, I’ve got to get serious – man hours pay off.”
Lately, that includes touring the world, plus working on material for a forthcoming record, the band’s eighth LP and first in 11 years, since Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes saw its climb to No. 4 on the Billboard album charts.
The band did play some U.S. dates from last fall through late spring (including a return to AZ Bike Week in Scottsdale in April). But the summer dates in Europe were “incredible,” Ness says, and included shows in cities they had never performed in, including Warsaw, Poland, and Athens, Greece.
“It was kind of eye-opening, realizing that we need to go [to Europe] more often. It’s stupid not to. The attendance and the energy from the crowd couldn’t have been better.
Being back on the road gives Ness and the rest of Social D the chance to test some of the new material that will possibly be on the forthcoming album, songs like “The Way Things Were,” “Born to Kill,” “Tonight,” and “Over You.”
Ness says the band had nailed down a selection of potential final cuts, but since coming back from touring Europe, they’re now looking at additional potential tracks, making the final selection harder.
“My goal with every record is to outdo the last one,” he says. “It’s just kind of standard. I think the songwriting on here is, I don’t want to say elevated, but has a lot more preparation. Before COVID hit, there was a couple of months of preproduction to get reference recordings of these songs,” explains Ness.
So, now the big question becomes: What will the new Social Distortion album sound like?
“To me, these songs are not much of a departure,” Ness says. “They fit right in. Some of the songwriting for this album began 20 years go. A couple of songs I just felt were strong and never got finished. That’s the style I was writing right before we recorded White Light, White Heat, White Trash” (the band’s fifth album from 1996).
Some surprising influences are making their way into Ness’ album direction.
“Honestly, I have been listening to records for production value, and I can’t stop listening to early AC/DC now,” Ness says. “I was never turned on to them as a teenager, and so I got into them later on, just like I got into Tom Petty later on. But there’s so many similarities to the writing on this record to early AC/DC, I’m listening to the guitar work; it’s so similar, mainly it’s the driving groove that they have, they’re just so primitive but effective.”
In addition, Ness is taking inspiration from blues-based punk pioneers for the new album.
“The first wave of punk, even bands like the Dead Boys … And the Ramones were laced with ’60s girl rock, and Iggy and the Stooges … blues-based. New York Dolls … blues-based rock and roll. There’s just something about that primal, stripped-down thing I’m really into now,” he says.
Ness flew solo when producing Hard Times, but has been entertaining the thought of bringing on composer and producer Dave Sarde for the upcoming album. Sarde brings Grammy Award-winning experience, having worked with a variety of performers including Jet, Band of Horses, Wolfmother, and The Ting Tings. He also scored several films, including 21 and Zombieland.
Ness is hoping for a fall 2023 release for the album, but in the meantime, they’re back on the road, bringing 40-plus years of Social D music to grateful audiences.
For himself, and his bandmates guitarist Jonny Wickersham, bass player Brent Harding, and drummer David Hidalgo Jr, their objective goes far beyond basic success and chart status. They’re out to prove wrong the pundits that say that punk rock is a retro statement and not a relevant genre of music.
“What really bothers me, in reading through headlines and blurbs, (is people asking) ‘Is guitar rock dead, is rock ‘n’ roll dead?’ You know what, over my dead body, how about that?” Ness says. “I just want to make another record that hopefully shapes things to come for music in general. Hopefully, there’s a handful of people [in the future] that feel we made things a little better.”
Social Distortion. December 2 show is sold out, but tickets are available for the show at 8 p.m. (6:30 p.m. doors), on Saturday, December 3, at Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue, Tempe. General admission floor seats are $39.50 plus fees. Visit the Luckyman Online website for tickets and info.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)