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Wild At Heart - Social Distortion's Jonny Wickersham interview

Wild Bill Ketelhut provides the "blog" to this anti-blog

Wild At Heart

Back in 2008 I had the honor of interviewing Mike Ness upstairs at St Andrews Hall. He was on his solo tour and gave me a few moments mainly based on the fact that I was representing a college radio station (WXOU) which has been very dedicated to playing Social Distortion's music for the past 30 years. I have missed Social D a number of times over the past decade and finally caught up with them at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo, NY for what I was hoping would be an exciting show. I had just come off seeing the post-punk band the Chameleons two days earlier so Social D had a lot to live up to.

Social D Mike Ness

Prior to the show I had the opportunity to talk with guitarist Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham. Jonny joined the band in 2000 following the passing of Dennis Danell. As a kid he was a fan of the band and grew up in the same area. About 5 years younger than Ness, he started tagging along with them at times and became friends of the band. Jonny says "Mike was a dynamic front guy" and you could just see his potential even when playing a gig at a garden party. To Jonny, Danell represented Mike's flipside and the two of them just made a perfect duo to front the band.

Social D Jonny Wickersham

It was in 1997 during Social D's European "White Light" tour when Donny replaced Danell for the continuation of the tour. Darnell was expecting his son Duke to be born and wanted to be there so Jonny "flew out and did a few gigs". A couple of years later, Danell passed away from a brain aneurysm which caused Mike to go through some soul searching as to whether to keep the band going. Mike called Jonny and offered him the job to be Social D's guitarist and he admits "it was very tough to come in and fill his shoes" since it was Dennis' band. To this day he just tries to keep up as his role is not about him but continuing what Danell started.

Social Distortion

Jonny seems to have done a good job integrating himself into the band and has helped in the songwriting duties on Social D's last two albums. Among those songs are "Angel's Wings", Nickels And Dimes" and "Faithless" from 2004's 'Sex, Love and Rock N Roll' and "Machine Gun Blues" and "Take Care Of Yourself" from their new album 'Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes'. Despite helping to co-write, Jonny humbly downplays his role. With "Nickels &And Dimes", Jonny states "the song was already mapped out already. It was almost done and Mike took it and approached it from his point of view". So while Jonny is contributing, one gets the feel that this is very much Mike's band though Jonny is OK with that.

It might have taken Jonny awhile to feel comfortable filling Danell's shoes but he says "this is my home now" and admits the fans and everyone has been real supportive of his time with Social D.

Social D punks out

Going back, I started off the interview asking him about his nickname "2 Bags" which got the response "we're not going to start with that". I never got the answer to that as he is very protective of that nickname from his younger years on the streets. He admits not really being proud of some aspects of his past when he was getting in trouble and breaking into the early punk rock scene. He was influenced by a guy named Jeff who got him into the scene starting with "Fast Cars" by the Buzzcocks. They had this very "eerie sound that was edgy and intense" and "the music just drew me in" which included the music of Stiff Little Fingers and the Sex Pistols and then later Black Flag and "Blue Album" by the Adolescents. I was " a 15 years old kid smoking pot and learning to drink" and that was just where I was at in life.

Social D rocks

Before he got into the punk scene, he was in a totally different realm.He grew up in a house with a lot of music with his father being in a band that played a lot of classic 60's/70's rock including the Stones and Mama's and the Papa's, including remembering listening with his father "Who's Next" and 8 track. He taught Jonny the various chords starting him on Hoyt Axton's "Greenback Dollar" before eventually getting into Zeppelin and Areosmith. With a bit of thoughtfulness in his voice, he admits his father "is more of an influence now" in his life an music which seems to be a very common trait among punk rockers as they go from rebellion to acceptance in their life.

Social D close up

Jonny does have a diverse musical palate enjoying outlaw country (like Hank and Highwayman stuff) to the Eagles and Flying Burrito Brothers. Not quite what one would expect from a guy who has been through the years with bands like US Bonds and Youth Brigade. He does some work on the side with a blues and a bluegrass band and has been working the last few years on a album of Americana music with a LA scene bent. He is not sure if or when the album will come out but he is proud of the work he has done with it. The best thing is working with two of his idols in the names of Dave Lindley and the one and only Jackson Browne who appear on one of the songs. I personally hope he gets the opportunity to get this album even if just online.

Social D Jonny

The show itself started off with a song from the new album called "Road Zombie" and went on for a wonderful hour and a half of new and old songs with a real precision for a band that has been around as long as they have. I have seen lots of bands from this era, including recent shows with the Misfits and Stiff Little Fingers. Most of these bands can rock out but their current playing doesn't really do full justice to their early sound. That is not true with the D. While their early music has a certain rawness, they now play with a real tightness and brings a certain power that keeps their music strong. The band sounds extremely good live these days unlike a lot of their brethren and put on a show that really kicks your ass. They had the place rockin right up to the final song, Cash's "Ring Of Fire", which had people dancing in the aisles. They are not coming to Detroit this time around but are playing close by. Just drive an hour south to Toledo @ the Omni on 11/26 or you can go to Grand rapids on 11/27 and see them @ the Orbit Room. If you have never seen them live before, you need to experience them if you are a fan of this genre of music.

Social D set list

Here is "Machine Gun Blues" from the new album: