Jonny Wickersham with his 1954 goldtop Les Paul at Harrah’s in
Council Bluffs, Iowa, on August 10, 2010.
Jonny, it sounds like you’re playing a Tele for those slow, bluesy rhythms on “Bakersfield.”
Wickersham: We’ve been playing that song live for a long time and I’ve been trying to play it with a Les Paul Junior or an old goldtop, but it just never sounded 100 percent right. So when we sat down to record the track, I used all three on different takes, and the Tele just sounded the best—it cut through the mix with its very distinct sound and tone.
That Telecaster looks like it has a lot of stories.
Wickersham: That Telecaster is such a great rock guitar, because it’s an old blackguard with a rewound original bridge pickup done by Lindy Fralin. The pickup is just so chunky and thick—it even has a Les Paul bite to it when it’s pushed—but it still has that twangy Tele characteristic. It’s one of my favorite guitars in the quiver, but when I got it the pickup was dead, the neck-plate bolts were stripped, and the bridge wouldn’t stay on— that Tele was in pieces.
Jonny, you take the solo on “Alone and Forsaken” with your Les Paul Jr. How did you approach composing a solo for an old, slow ’50s country song like that?
Wickersham: I just went with the melody— just like Mike taught me [laughs]—within the song’s basic chord structure of Am-E-F#- C, and let that lead me, because you can hear where you should go when you’re following the song’s melody and rhythm. It’s not the flashiest thing I’ve ever done, but it serves the song and doesn’t get in the way or ruin the natural flow.
At the beginning of “Still Alive,” there’s a great interplaying riff that carries the song and is sprinkled later again in the chorus. How did you come up with that?
Wickersham: It started off this warmup-type riff I play—this droning thing I do with chords that just rings out each individual string I hit. It makes it sound like a lot more is happening than my two hands are actually doing [laughs].
Let’s talk gear. Mike, during Social D’s Mommy’s Little Monster and Prison Bound eras, you were using SGs. In the ’90s, you made the switch to Les Paul Deluxes. Why the switch?
Ness: I always thought Les Pauls would be too heavy and restrict me when I was onstage, so I just stuck with what worked—my SGs. But once I tried the Les Pauls, I just fell in love with their sustain right off the bat. It’s incomparable. And the tone of those thick, mahogany Les Pauls is something I really took on as my new sound. In a way, it reshaped Social D’s sound.