Social Distortion shakes down Columbus and Cincinnati

Social Distortion’s Mike Ness (second from left) sheds some light on the band photo: Danny Clinch

By Matt Clevenger

With a career spanning four decades and two gold records under their belt, Social Distortion has seen it all, enduring as one of the best-selling punk rock bands of all time.

Originally formed in the late 1970s, the band helped create the early ’80s punk scene, and went on to develop their own signature sound—a timeless blend of punk rock, rockabilly, and hard-luck blues that still resonates with fans after more than 40 years.

Currently preparing for a summer tour with singer/songwriter Jade Jackson, the punk rock godfathers are planning back-to-back shows at Bogart’s in Cincinnati on July 29 and Newport Music Hall in Columbus on July 30.

Legendary frontman Mike Ness, the band’s only constant member, made time for a phone interview with Dayton City Paper recently, shedding light on the band’s long history and clearing up some rumors.

There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of a new Social Distortion album sometime next year. Is it true there’s a new album on the way? 

Mike Ness: Yeah, it is; it’s just I just don’t know when. I mean the writing’s been going on for a while now. We just need to close up shop on touring and then it officially begins.

What does the new material sound like? How does it compare with your last album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes?

MN: It’s a little early on. I think it’s definitely evolved, but evolution might be going back to basics a little bit more or it could mean experimentation. Or it could be a combination of both.

Social Distortion has grown over the years to become one of the best-selling punk rock acts of all time. What do you think is the secret behind the band’s staying power?

MN: I think we’ve been very lucky. Our music was never any one particular genre. We came out of the late ’70s punk scene, but we were always a little bit more traditional than our contemporaries. My foundation is in ’60s and ’70s classic rock, and then I got into punk. It’s blues-based rock and roll, and for some reason, it’s very timeless.

From the musical aspect, we’ve been able to transcend into two or three generations. We’ve got parents bringing their kids to see a band they grew up with, and we’ve also got kids who got turned on to us and they’re bringing their parents to check us out. Lyrically, I just think it relates because it’s honest, and I try to write about real life.

What are your thoughts on Chuck Berry’s passing? I know Social D has covered some Chuck Berry material in the past.

MN: Chuck Berry really was one of the first guitar heroes, you know. You listen to the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks album; it’s laced with Chuck Berry’s influence, and Johnny Thunders, the same thing.

He was an innovator and a pioneer of rock and roll, and especially being a black artist in a period of time when there were all kinds of barriers he had to overcome. But in that time period, white kids loved black music. And as hard as society tried to forbid it, it just made them want to listen to it more.

You’ve also become somewhat of a guitar legend yourself. How did you first get started playing the guitar?

MN: My father played guitar around the house, and that was my first experience listening to him play guitar while I was going to sleep, playing songs like “Wildwood Flower,” and Johnny Cash songs, and stuff. It really just made me want to do it.

I got my first guitar around 10 or 11, you know, a little cheap Japanese electric guitar, and took a class in junior high on how to play some classic folk songs, and then I just started writing songs within a couple of years. That’s really all the training I’ve had.

What’s next for Social D, after this summer tour wraps up?

MN: Basically, that’s when we close up shop for touring, and we won’t be doing any more touring until the record is done. That’s when the pedal hits the metal, and I start locking myself into isolation and start writing, and getting serious about making the new record.

There’s also been talk about an acoustic Social Distortion album for years. Is that still a possibility down the road?

MN: Yeah, I made a decision that the studio record should come first. We’ll probably follow it with an acoustic record, which is going to be something very similar to what Johnny Cash did with the Rick Rubin sessions, taking some of our classic songs, re-working them and showing people that they can be just as powerful done a different way.

You’ve also released two very successful solo albums. Do you plan on doing any more solo material in the future?

MN: That was a tough decision too. I’m actually more prepared for a solo record right now than I am a Social D record, because a longer time has lapsed and I’ve written more songs for that project. But I also had to make a decision that that should wait until after the Social D record. In other words, people have already been waiting a long time. I don’t want to push it—I want to try and get it out while we’re still young.

Social Distortion plays Sunday, July 30 at Newport Music Hall, 1722 North High St. in Columbus. Jade Jackson is also on the bill. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $38.50 in advance, $40 day of show. For tickets or more information, please call 614.461.5483 or visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at

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