Social Distortions Jonny Wickersham: Still learning to rock after 30 years

by By: Rob Williams, Featured Writer, Winnipeg Free Press

Jonny Wickersham has been playing guitar for 30 years, but he’s still trying to imitate his heroes.

The Social Distortion guitarist took a page from Keith Richards’ playbook by using a banjo tuning for the Stonesy tune California (Hustle and Flow) on the band’s latest album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.

“It’s so fun for us to be able to do that,” he says over the phone from a Portland, Ore. tour stop. “Even now we’re learning and hopefully becoming better players. It’s exciting to be able to do something to emulate our guitar heroes. After all this time you feel like a little kid trying to play like Keith Richards.”

The band’s latest album is an amalgamation of everything the veteran Mike Ness-led outfit is known for — punk, roots, honky-tonk, blues and classic rock — but with an added touch of soul and R&B complete with female backing vocals and some Hammond organ.

But even with the new elements, Ness’s distinctive rumbling guitar tone and his gritty voice means there’s no mistaking the band for anyone other than Social Distortion.

“He’s really good at being able to evolve the band and retain that signature sound; that integrity of what the band is while growing,” says Wickersham, also known by the nickname Jonny 2 Bags. “He knows what it is that makes the band work now and what the sound is. Like when we do a cover, it essentially becomes a Social Distortion song.

“When I joined the band and presented him with songs, he said, ‘These are great, now let’s turn them into Social D. songs.'”

Ness founded Social Distortion in 1979 with guitarist Dennis Danell and released their debut, Mommy’s Little Monster, in 1983. The album, along with releases by groups like Black Flag, Angry Samoans, the Circle Jerks, Descendents and Adolescents would define So-Cal punk rock and influence the next generation of West Coast bands.

A heroin addiction and some time in jail would stall the band’s follow up, but Ness cleaned up and re-emerged in 1988 with the autobiographical Prison Bound, which added some twang to the band’s style.

The future of the group was cast into doubt when Danell died of an aneurysm in February, 2000. As an homage to his friend, Ness kept the band going with Danell’s one-time guitar tech and friend, Wickersham, in his place and dedicated the 2004 comeback album Sex, Love and Rock SSRqN’ Roll to him.

“Mike and I used to paint houses together. He actually became a better house painter than I did in the late ’80s. I wasn’t very good at it. I never made it painting,” says Wickersham, a founding member of rockabilly punks the Cadillac Tramps — regular visitors to Winnipeg in the early 1990s — who has also played in U.S. Bombs and Youth Brigade.

He will return to the city Monday when Social Distortion plays the Burton Cummings Theatre with the Toadies and Lindi Ortega opening.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

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2 Responses to Social Distortions Jonny Wickersham: Still learning to rock after 30 years

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