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‘Our special place.’ Why Social Distortion’s Mike Ness loves the SLO life

Mike Ness and Social Distortion will perform at the Surf Ranch Pro, Sept. 8, 2018 in Lemoore, CA. The band replaces Blink-182.
Mike Ness and Social Distortion will perform at the Surf Ranch Pro, Sept. 8, 2018 in Lemoore, CA. The band replaces Blink-182. Invision/Associated Press

Like most professional musicians with a demanding touring schedule and scores of fans, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness has a special recipe for relaxation.

Whenever the pioneering punk rocker wraps up a big tour, he heads to his Morro Bay farm, lights a fire in the backfield and unwinds. “I can just sit and stare up at the stars,” he said.

Ness returns home Friday for a Social Distortion concert at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Opening for the band is another musician with Central Coast ties: alt-country singer-songwriter Jade Jackson, who grew up in Santa Margarita. (Nashville folk rocker Aaron Lee Tasjan will also perform.)

Ness is looking forward to performing for a hometown crowd again.

“For me, the Central Coast is a big part of my life,” he said, describing the region as a place where he and his wife, a San Luis Obispo County native, go to relax and reconnect. “It’s kind of our special place. ... It’s great and I love it.”

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Mike Ness and his band, Social Distortion, will perform Friday, July 20, 2018, at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Ness lives in Morro Bay. Amy Harris Invision/Associated Press

Hearing Ness, 56, wax ecstatic about the area’s tranquil beauty — he loves hiking in Montana de Oro State Park and shopping at the Morro Bay farmers market — you’re reminded how far he’s come from the tattooed, trigger-tempered troublemaker who got kicked out of his father’s Fullerton home at around 15.

Ness started Social Distortion, known for such hard-charging hits as “Ball and Chain” and “Story of My Life,” as a teenager in 1979. The band’s very first gig, a Yorba Linda house party, ended with him being hauled to jail after spitting in a police officer’s face.

The next decade brought more brawls and bad behavior as Ness battled drug and alcohol addiction, spending stints in jail and rehab.

As Ness told The Tribune in 2012, the seedier aspects of the punk lifestyle once appealed to him as much as the music.

“You can be violent. You can destroy stuff. You can do whatever you want,” he said. “It was what I needed at the time. ... I had suppressed a lot of feelings over the years, and now I had an outlet to express them.”

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Mike Ness and his band, Social Distortion, will perform Friday, July 20, 2018, at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Ness lives in Morro Bay.

After Ness cleaned up, however, his attitude changed. “Once I realized I could do music and stay clean, it was a big deal,” he said in 2012. “I just realized that, if I wanted to do this, I had to be serious and look at it as a job ...”

Over the years, Social Distortion has released seven albums, including 2011’s “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes,” and built a fervent fan base that ranges from students to senior citizens. (Ness, the band’s lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter, also released a pair of solo albums.)

“I’m seeing the (same) local fans 20, 30 years later. They’re bringing their kids,” Ness said. “They want to pass down something to their kids that meant a lot to them.”

Meanwhile, Ness has discovered a simpler pace of life in Morro Bay, where he bought a house about a dozen years ago. Both of his sons — Julian, 26, and John, 22 — were born in San Luis Obispo.

“I always tell people that San Luis is in my ace in the hole,” said Ness, who has a home and business, Black Kat Kustoms, in Santa Ana. “When I’m ready, that’s where I’ll retire — just become a farmer.”

Ness credits his wife, Christine, with introducing him to the Central Coast. She grew up in See Canyon and Los Osos and attended Morro Bay High School.

Christine Ness also helped connect her husband with the singer-songwriter who’d become his protegee, Jackson. After she heard Jackson perform at an open mic night at Kreuzberg Coffee Co. in San Luis Obispo, “My wife kept bothering me: ‘You’ve got to work with Jade. She’s so good,’” Mike Ness recalled.

Once he watched video of Jackson and listened to her demos, Ness said, “I couldn’t deny that there was some significant songwriting in there, especially for a young person. Her voice did not sound like a 25 year old. It sounded like an old soul singing.”

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Jade Jackson, a singer-songwriter from Santa Margarita, will perform with Social Distortion on Friday, July 20, 2018, at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. She’s a protegee of Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Ness took Jackson under his wing, producing her debut album, “Gilded,” and taking her on tour. Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Gilded,” released in May 2017, No. 30 on its year-end list of 40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2017.

“I’ve never had anyone listen to me like there was no tomorrow. She just really listens,” Ness said of Jackson, who credits a 2005 Social Distortion concert with inspiring her to become a professional musician. “What’s amazing about her is she’s just a prolific songwriter. She makes me look bad.”

Ness and Jackson just wrapped up work on her second album, due out in 2019. It doesn’t have a title yet, but Ness said Jackson’s sophomore effort showcases her genre-defying range.

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“I didn’t just want to put her in an alt-country box. ... I don’t want to make her the next Loretta Lynn when she’s got so many styles,” Ness said of Jackson. “(Her music) sounds young and it sounds hip, and let’s keep it that way.”

“I just don’t like labels,” Ness added, especially when it comes to Social Distortion. “I love blues, but we’re not a blues band. I love country, but we’re not a country band. I love punk, but we’re more than a punk band.”

Ness said being Jackson’s mentor has “absolutely” changed the way he approaches his own creative process, encouraging him to take risks.

“When I’m making my records, I can get kind of rigid,” he acknowledged.

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Mike Ness and his band, Social Distortion, will perform Friday, July 20, 2018, at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Ness lives in Morro Bay. Amy Harris Invision/Associated Press

Working with Jackson, Ness added, “really has introduced me to a whole different world of thinking.”

That attitude is sure to pay off as he works on the long-awaited follow-up to “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.” “I’ve put two new songs in the set to let people know (the album) is coming,” Ness said, adding that his goal is to be in the recording studio by spring 2019.

But that project will have to wait until his next tour ends. Social Distortion wraps up its summer tour with a sold-out show at Klipsch Fest in Ohio in August, before heading back on the road in September and October.

“It’s going to be great,” Ness said. “What’s going to greater is my fire afterward.”

Social Distortion

6:15 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. gates

Avila Beach Golf Resort, 6464 Ana Bay Road, Avila Beach

$39.50 to $85

www.otterproductionsinc.com

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