Ness, best known as the leader of the band Social Distortion, has spent the last four weeks touring with his solo act, which pays homage to the classic American rockers and country stars who influenced him as a youth and propelled him to a successful career of hard, loud, fast and anti-social music.
“In this show, I give back a little bit to the fans what these guys gave to me,” Ness said Tuesday in an interview with the Sparks Tribune.
“These guys” are the musicians Ness heard long before the punk sound emerged in the late 1970s. Born in 1962, Ness first heard artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Marty Robbins, and his solo tour, which ends in Chico on Sunday after Saturday’s show in Reno, largely features “songs I’ve always been playing in my living room,” Ness said.
“I brought roots music to punk,” Ness said of the inspiration this music brought to his angst-ridden career. “With this show I want to bring everything I’ve learned in the last 30 years to bring some edge, dirt and attitude to roots music.”
Fans who have followed Ness’ solo work will already be familiar with his recorded efforts to put the edge and dirt in some of these older songs — songs that Ness said he will feature prominently in his Reno show. In 1999, almost a decade after Social Distortion’s self-titled breakout album and after more than two decades on the music scene, Ness released his only two solo albums, “Cheating at Solitaire” and “Under the Influences,” which each feature an amalgam of songs by Ness and the musicians who inspired him. Among the highlights of the solo releases are covers of Bob Dylan’s heartbreak song “Don’t Think Twice,” Cash’s lament to infidelity “Long Black Veil,” Marty Robbins’ outlaw tale “Big Iron” and Sonny Curtis’ “I Fought the Law.” Covers of Hank Williams’ “Six More Miles” and the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and Ness’ own “If You Leave Before Me” and “Rest of our Lives” all pluck at the heart strings while Ness twangs on his guitar strings.
While Ness’ solo work is unmistakably his, the music is distinct from the Social Distortion music. The slow-train rhythm and sweetness of “Ballad of a Lonely Man” is a far departure from songs like “Mommy’s Little Monster” and the honky-tonk version of “Ball and Chain” is very different than the original punk recording, but fans who appreciate the origins of Ness’ music and his talent and energy as a performer will be won over by this different body of work.
“If you like Social D., you’re going to love this,” Ness said. “There are a lot of similarities.”
But Ness promises that Saturday’s show will not be devoid of Social Distortion music. If the encores of previous Ness live performances provide any foreshadowing, the conclusion of Saturday’s show will likely feature a combination of Social Distortion music, a la “Story of My Life, and tribute music, a la Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Mike Ness performs with special rockabilly guests the Horton Brothers on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Grand Sierra’s Grand Theatre. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 1-800-648-3568 or online at www.grandsierraresort.com.