Mike Ness Kicks Off Tour By Paying Homage To Country Roots

Social Distortion frontman launches monthlong trek same day second solo album comes out.

SAN FRANCISCO — Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness trumpeted

influences from country to punk and back as he launched a solo tour Tuesday,

the same day he released the country-covers album Under the Influences.

At Slim's, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist led a country band through

a rip-snorting set of covers, his own style of Western stomp and a few

Social Distortion favorites, while making clear that the music was around

long before he was.

"Some of you are old enough to remember the Bobby Fuller Four, who wrote

this song," Ness said before playing that band's classic mid-'60s outlaw

anthem "I Fought the Law" (RealAudio

excerpt of Ness version).

"Some of you are old enough to remember [British punk pioneers] the Clash

[playing] this song," he continued. "And let me state for the record,

there would be no Mike Ness if it wasn't for the Clash. Well, there'd be

no Clash if there was no Hank Williams ... anyways, we wanted to make

this song American again."

Country pioneer Williams is one of the forebears Ness pays tribute to on

Under the Influences, released only seven months after his first

solo album, Cheating at Solitaire. He also covers the Carter Family,

Johnny Cash and rockabilly singer/songwriter Carl Perkins in a style that

blends Ness' punk background with the sound of his old-school country

and rock idols.

"Let's do this," Ness said, taking the stage at Slim's, in a black cowboy

hat and Western shirt, launching the band directly into a steady country

groove.

The heavily tattooed frontman played a hybrid of country and punk guitar.

His backing musicians — upright bassist Brent Harding, guitarist

Sean Greaves, drummer Charlie Quintana and pedal steel player–guitar

picker Chris Lawrence — let their cowboy hats down a few times to

play some solid punk rock.

Ness' punk posturing translated easily into cowboy as he crooned, "Give

me your heart/ Give me your soul/ I'll take you/ The devil in Miss Jones,"

on the slow "The Devil in Miss Jones," from Cheating at Solitaire.

Ness removed his hat and sang with country-flavored melancholy, while

Lawrence used his pedal steel to emulate a fiddle on Carl Perkins' slow

shuffle "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing" (RealAudio

excerpt of Ness version).

Lawrence continued his fiddle impersonation, playing what was originally

a horn part on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which Social Distortion

covered on 1990's Social Distortion. Lawrence took an extended,

melodic break during that song. Ness dedicated his own "Ballad of a Lonely

Man" to Cash, who suffers from the nervous-system disorder Shy-Drager

syndrome and was hospitalized with pneumonia in October.

The crowd ranged from young punks, bikers, greasers and leopard-print-wearing

hipsters to college kids and grownup punk veterans.

"The last time I saw Mike Ness was about 16 years ago," Charlie Webb, 43,

of San Francisco said. "He's still got it. He's the real deal."

On "Ball and Chain (Honky Tonk)" — a reworking of Social Distortion's

"Ball and Chain" that appears on Under the Influences, Ness grit

his teeth and lamented, "I've searched now to find the perfect life/

Brand-new suit, brand-new car ... Take away this ball and chain." The

music slowed to silence, and Ness yelled "Motherf---er!" before ending

the tune.

The crowd sang along with a punk/country take on Social Distortion's

"Story of My Life" (RealAudio

excerpt). Ness sang whiny teen-angst vocals ("high school was

such a bore..."), while Quintana laid a steady stomping backbeat. Harding's

hands bounced off the neck of his upright as he plucked a meaty, thumping

bassline.

"It blew me away" Stefan Meyer, 27, of San Francisco said. "I didn't know

what he was gonna do, and it was fabulous. I knew Social Distortion were

influenced by a lot of blues and early rockabilly artists, but I didn't

think he was going to pull this off. I'm thinking we might be returning

tomorrow night."

Ness is scheduled to play Slim's again Wednesday night (Nov. 10). His

U.S. tour will continue through mid-December.

Texan power trio the Road Kings opened for Ness. Singer/guitarist Jesse

Dayton led his band through a set of original psychobilly and a medley

that included snips of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Junior Parker's

"Mystery Train." On one bebop-flavored jam, Dayton soloed Texas-swing

style, while bassist Jason Byrne stood atop his upright bass to play.