There’s a legend around Mike Ness, lead singer and founding member of Social Distortion. It extends from those early do-or-die years in the West Coast punk scene (if you’re a young musician and you take nothing else from this, watch Another State of Mind). There’s also the outlaw aspect of his persona, the music he chooses to make– undeniably punk with a hillbilly bloodline. With his worn leather voice, Mike Ness can growl out hardcore anthems or barroom laments with equal credibility. He believes every word, every time– and so do we.
In 1988, Social Distortion released Prison Bound, a clanking, gritty, searing tattoo that, for me, heralded the arrival of Mike Ness as punk music’s Man In Black. Over the next decade, Ness and Social D would release three thick, genre-defying/career-defining albums, including what many consider to be their pinnacle, 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell. SBH&H is the album that Johnny, Luther, and Marshall might’ve made if they’d come together in Orange County circa ’84 instead of Memphis in ’54.
There’s thunder and white lightnin’ in the opening track, “Cold Feeling”, while “Bad Luck” kicks the album nearly into full throttle rockabilly. Mike Ness is perfect and without irony on Jimmy Work’s country classic, “Making Believe” and his own beer-soaked honky tonker, “This Time Darlin’”. Other than The Clash’s rendition of “I Fought The Law”, there may not be a better melding of punk and rockabilly than Social D’s “When She Begins”. I’ll make this statement and defend it with my fists– Merle Haggard should have cut “99 to Life”.
Hell, just writing this, I’m imagining the Highway Men doing nearly every track on SBH&H! Listen yourself and tell me you don’t hear Johnny, Kris, Waylon, and Willie singing “Sometimes I Do”. Go ahead, I’ll wait.