Social Distortion's Mike Ness Goes Solo On Solitaire

Bruce Springsteen, Brian Setzer guest on breakaway album, Cheating At Solitaire.

After "eighteen years in a travelling band," as Mike Ness sings on his debut solo album, Cheating At Solitaire, the Social Distortion frontman has hit the road on his own for the first time.

And if things go his way, he won't stop with the 28 dates he's sealed so far.

"I hope to really kick this as far as I can," Ness said. "I worked so hard on this record that I want to show [it to] everyone ..."

The album, released April 20 on Time Bomb Recordings, finds Ness working with a stellar group of guests, including songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Brian Setzer and Mando Dorame from Royal Crown Revue. In the process he's put punk aside for the moment to pay tribute to his roots by examining various facets of musical Americana including country, blues and rockabilly.

"This record was taking the cork out of the bottle," Ness said. "You know, there's more to life than punk rock. I love punk music but there's music that influenced me just as much. I mean, Hank Williams affected me just as much as the Clash did, you know what I mean? I've been doing Social D almost 20 years now but I felt restricted. I could bring certain aspects of Americana , but I could only go so far."

The tour, which kicked off Saturday in Bakersfield, Calif., is scheduled to run through a June 11 date in Boston, Mass., but additional dates should soon be announced on his website (www.mikeness.com).

While fans can expect to hear one or two Social Distortion favorites during the show, Ness is concentrating on tunes from Cheating at Solitaire.

"He's playing here three nights in a row and they're all sold out already," wrote Los Angeles fan Tina Brewey, referring to the punk vet's shows at the El Rey Theatre, Monday through Wednesday of the upcoming week. "We're just grateful we snagged our tickets. This CD is some of his best stuff ever, and it's going to be so great just to see him do his own thing."

While Cheating at Solitaire is the product of Ness' creative vision, the rocker brought in the guest artists and session players to help him achieve exactly what he wanted on the disc. Springsteen offers his gruff rock vocals on "Misery Loves Company" (RealAudio excerpt), while Setzer contributes guitar work and Dorame plays sax on "Crime Don't Pay" (RealAudio excerpt). Popular Los Angeles drummer Josh Freese helped solidify the rhythm section.

Several of Ness' session musicians will tour with him, including Sean Greaves on second guitar, Chris Lawrence on pedal steel, Johnny Rioux on bass and Charlie Quintana on drums.

When discussing his collaborative work with Springsteen, Ness recalled reading an interview with the rock superstar several years ago in which the Boss cited Social Distortion's Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992) as his favorite album of the year. "This is before I met him and I just thought, 'Wow, you know, [that's] pretty awesome', " Ness said. "Never thought that would happen."

Feeling that Solitaire has a blue-collar tone, Ness said he knew Springsteen was particularly right for the raw roots-rocker "Misery Loves Company." The album also includes a country-blues cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" (RealAudio excerpt) and renditions of "Send Her Back," by rockabilly artist Al Ferrier, and of Hank Williams' "You Win Again."

Though themes of loneliness and regret crop up frequently on the album, Ness said they're actually about learning from his mistakes rather than wishing he could change the past. "It's kind of looking back to periods of my life where I've been in a hellhole and how I shortchanged myself when it came to relationships," Ness said of the title song.

"Rock 'n' roll pretty much enabled me to not grow up," he said. "In this business, that lifestyle is not only acceptable but encouraged. You end up hurting people and you end up hurting yourself along the way just as bad. The metaphor ... I used was that when you're playing solitaire you can cheat, and it can appear you won. But did you really?"

While Cheating At Solitaire by no means marks the end of Social Distortion, Ness said he believes the album and its supporting tour will allow him to return to his punk band feeling refreshed and invigorated.

"I think this is necessary," he said. "It's been a big leap of faith. It was kind of like leaving the comfort zone of punk rock and trying something new. But you know, I've been doing that band for 18 or 19 years. And taking a little break from it will make it exciting when I do go back to it."

Mike Ness North American Tour Dates:

April 24; Bakersfield, Calif., Juarez Hall

April 25; Ventura, Calif., Ventura Theater

April 26-27; San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Coach House

April 29; San Diego, Calif., 4th & B

April 30; Scottsdale, Ariz., Cajun House

May 1; Las Vegas, Nev., House Of Blues

May 3-5; Los Angeles, Calif., El Rey Theater

May 7; San Francisco, Calif., 7th Note

May 8; Vancouver, British Columbia, Vogue Theater

May 9; Seattle, Wash., King Cat Theater

May 10; Portland, Ore., Roseland Theater

May 12; Sacramento, Calif., Crest Theater

May 14; Salt Lake City, Utah, Tower Theater

May 15; Denver, Colo., Ogden Theater

May 17; Minneapolis, Minn., First Avenue

May 18; Chicago, Ill., Park West

May 19; Milwaukee, Wis., Modjeska Theater

May 21; Detroit, Mich., TBA

May 22; Columbus, Ohio, Newport Music Hall

May 23; Cincinnati, Ohio, Bogart's

May 25; Cleveland, Ohio, Agora Theater

May 26; Greensburg, Pa., Palace Theater

May 27; Buffalo, N.Y., The Tralf

June 9; Toronto, Ontario, Music Hall Theatre

June 11; Boston, Mass., Berklee Performance Center