The enduring L.A. punk band Social Distortion has overcome numerous personnel shifts, the demise of the Los Angeles hardcore scene that spawned them, and the heroin addiction of singer/guitarist/bandleader Mike Ness
to achieve a measure mainstream acceptance for their rootsy, hard-hitting punk without compromise.
Inspired by the fertile L.A. punk scene, Ness
formed the group in 1978 with drummer Casey Royer and brothers Frank (bass) and Rikk Agnew
(guitar). When the brothers left to join the Adolescents
' schoolmate Dennis Danell joined on bass; the next few years saw a revolving-door membership. When the group finally recorded its debut album, Mommy's Little Monster in 1983, the band consisted of Ness
, Danell (now on guitar), bassist Brent Liles, and drummer Derek O'Brien. Their music was often described as a punk version of the Rolling Stones
, and "Another State of Mind" was one of the few punk videos to air on MTV in 1984. However, the band took four years to record a follow-up, as Ness
descended into heroin addiction and self-consciously rebellious behavior. Liles and O'Brien left, and Ness
, after straightening himself out, finally regrouped in 1988 with John Maurer on bass and Chris Reece on drums. This lineup recorded Prison Bound, a mature album broadening Social Distortion's roots rock influences with a country feel. Their self-titled 1990 effort included a cover of Johnny Cash
's "Ring of Fire" and returned the group to MTV via "Ball and Chain." Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell became their most popular album to date, producing a minor radio hit in "Bad Luck" and keeping with their now-established blend of punk, blues, country, and rockabilly.