Cementing Social Distortion’s legacy

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Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham vividly recalls the first time he heard the 1990 album, Social Distortion.

“I remember what I was doing and what street I was driving down when I actually heard some demos or rough mixes before it came out,” says Wickersham.

The rhythm guitarist was driving down Brookhurst Street in Huntington Beach, California, when he heard the collection that features the songs “Story of My Life” and “Ball and Chain.”

“I was friends with the band and everything,” Wickersham explains. “In so many ways it was such a jump forward in the sound of the band. The whole quality of the recording was like the band really kind of evolved from (1998’s) Prison Bound to that record. I felt it was really strong.”

At the time, Wickersham was just good friends with the California-bred band. He joined Social D after founding guitarist Dennis Danell died from a reported brain aneurysm in 2000.

This year celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album Social Distortion. In Europe, Social Distortion is scheduled to play the collection from front to back. Wickersham says the Mike Ness-fronted rockabilly-inspired band just may do that here, as well, when it kicks off Arizona Bike Week festivities at WestWorld at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 25.

“When we do things like that, what it means is that there are songs that we never play that we’re going to throw in the set,” Wickersham says. “In a sense, it’s like playing new songs. It’s not really a challenge. You just have to learn the song and play it, just practice it a couple times.”

Social Distortion’s last album was 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, an album that reached No. 4 on The Billboard 200 albums chart. Wickersham explains the band is in the very preliminary stages of recording a new album.

“We’ve got a handful of songs that we’ve been messing around with,” he says. “We sort of find grooves at soundchecks and mess with them a little bit. We’re starting to collect these ideas. At some point, Mike will pick the best ones and we’ll continue to work on those, hone them in and get them finished for the record. We’ve been talking about the direction we’d like to take on this record. We’re not going in, like, next week to start working with it.”

Wickersham says he is constantly writing material, whether it is for Social D or for himself. He co-wrote several songs with Ness for Social Distortion’s albums Sex, Love and Rock ’n’ Roll (2004) and Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011). He says that, being a sideman, he usually writes songs that he hopes the singer will like. At this point, it’s not hard to do.

“Everybody in the band’s so experienced at this point,” he says. “Things come together pretty quickly and pretty easily. Everybody’s got a lot of ideas. Everybody reads each other’s minds at this point, and can tell where a song needs to go—where to put a bridge, dynamically where things need to occur, what kind of dialogue needs to occur. It’s an instinctual thing at some point. When I was younger, it was very hard. We just could barely make it through the song.”

With the help of producer David Kalish, Wickersham recorded 2014’s critically acclaimed album Salvation Town. After urging Wickersham for years to make a solo record, Kalish helped the guitarist produce and iron out tunes like “Then You Stand Alone” and “Forlorn Walls.”

“It was a completely different experience,” he says. “The music’s completely different—a whole different thing in every way. It’s just great. It’s a great outlet and an opportunity for me to be able to have complete control over what I want to do creatively. I’ve never had that. It’s always been a collaboration or a compromise. It’s really good. It’s very positive, I think, and very healthy.”

Social Distortion at Arizona Bike Week, WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, azbikeweek.com, Wednesday, March 25, 9 p.m., $28

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