Orange County’s Social Distortion is one of the world’s biggest punk bands. The group has played the big stage at various festivals—including Coachella—and has enjoyed sold-out tours over the years.
Jonny Two Bags (Jonny Wickersham) helped the band pick up the pieces after the death of original guitarist Dennis Danell in 2000. He’ll be performing as the opening act for Brian Fallon and the Crowes at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, Feb. 12.
During a recent phone interview, Wickersham said replacing Danell in Social Distortion was not easy.
“It was really uncomfortable,” Wickersham said. “On the other hand, I was really happy for the opportunity to play with Social Distortion. My main concern was I didn’t want to make it about me. … I remember Social Distortion when I was a kid, and Mike Ness and Dennis Danell were equally the face of the band back then. They were both always together. They started it together, and I felt like I’m filling in for Dennis, even though he’ll never be here again. I’ve always tried to maintain that perspective on it—I’m subbing for Dennis.
“Dennis kept things together when Mike was just out of control and when Mike was in no shape to run a band.”
Wickersham also played in the Cadillac Tramps, another Orange County band that found a degree of success after Pearl Jam invited the group to tour. However, the Cadillac Tramps never caught on in the mainstream.
“Like Mike, during those days, I was a mess,” Wickersham said of his pre-Cadillac Tramps days. “There was no way I could even be in a band or hold on to a guitar. … I’d sell stuff all the time, borrow a guitar and sell that, and that kind of bullshit. I was in this band in Costa Mesa, and I never even played a live show with them and didn’t make it to anything.
“The Tramps were my first band, and by then, I had gotten cleaned up. That whole band came out of a bunch of guys trying to get their shit together, and we were together for about eight or nine years. We started off playing around, and we started playing clubs, and it sort of built a local following, and we got on an indie label. We basically lived in a van for five years and toured and toured and toured. Besides Pearl Jam, the Beat Farmers from San Diego were the only ones who did us a solid.”
Wickersham said he doesn’t understand why the Cadillac Tramps were not more successful.
“We’d see all these other bands get hooked up on tours, especially getting into the ’90s, when Fat Wreck Chords or Epitaph Records would have this business model in place, and it was, ‘We’re going to put out these bands, and they’re all going to sound the same as the owner of the label’s band, and we’re all going to tour together,’” he said. “It was just like a machine, and these bands would get huge really fast, and it never happened for us. Besides Western Canada and the West Coast, we never got a following anywhere else. But it was a great time, and I got my shit together. I had a feeling that I had a new lease on life.”
Wickersham also spent a stint as a member of the U.S. Bombs—during which frontman Duane Peters tested Wickersham’s sobriety. Wickersham said he remains concerned about Peters, who has long battled drugs, including heroin.
“It’s really unfortunate. That is one fucking exceptional human being, man. He is a survivor and a genius, and he’s much more intelligent than he lets people believe, which is his hustle,” he said about Peters. “I remember one time we were in the van, and he was on a fucking bender, and it was hard to tour with him. He used to get all pissed off at us, and we’d try to ditch him and avoid him. But we had to travel together, and he said one time, ‘You motherfuckers! I’ve lived more life by my fucking pinky nail than any of you have.’ I fucking fully bought into it for a second. I was like, ‘He’s right! I punked out and got clean and got out of that game. But he’s lived by adventure and pirate.’ Then the next thought was, ‘All the people that you hurt living that way, and the people’s lives you barreled through … fuck that; I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now. I’m accountable; I don’t hurt people; and I live an honest life.’
“I love Duane, and I hope the best for him. I’ve tried to get a hold of him for the past year, and he doesn’t even hit me back, which is not like him.”
Wickersham’s first full-length solo album, Salvation Town, was released in 2014.
“I didn’t steal the title, but I borrowed it from Joyride, which is Steve Soto of the Adolescents’ band,” Wickersham explained. (“Salvation Town” was the name of a Joyride song.) “They did a couple of records on the same label as the Tramps. Joyride was awesome, and it was Steve’s vision of really good solid songs. At the time I was recording these songs, I didn’t want to do a solo thing and wanted a band together where I could be the songwriter and calling the shots for once according to my vision—but all the band names are gone. It’s like anything cool has been used, and you can find out immediately these days with Google. I also have a revolving cast of people I play with, and I put the record out as a solo act.”
Around the time of the interview, Wickersham took part in a benefit show in Orange County for Cadillac Tramps frontman Gabby Gaborno, who is currently suffering from liver cancer.
“It was awesome. Gabby couldn’t make it, and he wasn’t feeling good at all. He was there in spirit, and it was cool,” Wickersham said. “There were 13 artists, and we kind of blasted through it and played short sets. At the end of the night, the Beat Farmers played.”
Jonny Two Bags will perform with Brian Fallon and the Crowes at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 12, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.