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Billie Joe Armstrong

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Billie Joe Armstrong
Armstrong performing in 2017
Armstrong performing in 2017
Background information
Also known as
  • Fink
  • Wilhelm Fink
  • Reverend Strychnine Twitch
Born (1972-02-17) February 17, 1972 (age 49)
Oakland, California, U.S.
OriginRodeo, California, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer
  • musician
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • actor
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1987–present
Labels
Associated acts

Billie Joe Armstrong (born February 17, 1972) is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. He is best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and lead guitarist of the rock band Green Day, which he co-founded with Mike Dirnt in 1985. He is also a guitarist and vocalist for the punk rock band Pinhead Gunpowder, and provides lead vocals for Green Day's side projects Foxboro Hot Tubs, The Network, The Longshot, and The Coverups.

Armstrong developed an interest in music at a young age, and recorded his first song at the age of five. He met Dirnt while attending elementary school, and the two instantly bonded over their mutual interest in music, forming the band Sweet Children when the two were 14 years old. The band later changed its name to Green Day. Armstrong has also pursued musical projects including numerous collaborations with other musicians. In 1997, to coincide with the release of Nimrod, he founded Adeline Records to help support other bands, signing acts such as The Frustrators, AFI, and Dillinger Four. The record company later shut down in August 2017.[1]

Early life

Billie Joe Armstrong[2] was born in Oakland, California,[3] on February 17, 1972,[4] the youngest of six children of Ollie Jackson (born 1932)[5] and Andrew Marciano Armstrong (1928–1982).[6] He was raised in Rodeo, California. His father, a jazz musician and truck driver for Safeway, died of esophageal cancer in September 1982, when Armstrong was 10 years old.[6] The song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a memorial to his father. Armstrong has three older sisters named Marci, Hollie, and Anna, and two older brothers named David and Alan. His mother worked as a waitress at Rod's Hickory Pit in El Cerrito, California, where he and Mike Dirnt would play their first gig in 1987.[6] His great-great-grandparents Pietro Marsicano and Teresa Nigro were Italian immigrants from Viggiano who settled in Boston until 1869, when they moved to Berkeley, California.[7]

Armstrong attended Hillcrest Elementary School in Rodeo, where a teacher encouraged him to record a song titled "Look for Love" at the age of five[8] on the Bay Area label Fiat Records.[6][9] After his father died, his mother married a man whom her children disliked, which resulted in Armstrong's further retreat into music.[citation needed] At the age of 10, he met Dirnt in the school cafeteria, and they immediately bonded over their love of music.[6] He became interested in punk rock after being introduced to the genre by his brothers.[10] He has also cited The Replacements and Hüsker Dü as major musical influences. The first concert he watched was Van Halen in 1984. Along with Hillcrest Elementary, Armstrong attended Carquinez Middle School and John Swett High School, both in Crockett, California, and later transferred to Pinole Valley High School in Pinole, California. On his 18th birthday, he dropped out to pursue a musical career.[citation needed]

Career

In 1987, aged 15, Armstrong formed a band called Sweet Children with his childhood friend Mike Dirnt. In the beginning, Armstrong and Dirnt both played guitar, with Raj Punjabi[11] on drums[12] and Sean Hughes on bass. Punjabi was later replaced on drums by John Kiffmeyer, also known as Al Sobrante. After a few performances, Hughes left the band in 1988; Dirnt then began playing bass and they became a three-piece band. They changed their name to Green Day in April 1989, choosing the name because of their fondness for marijuana.[13]

In 1989, Green Day released their debut EP 1,000 Hours through Lookout! Records. They recorded their debut studio album 39/Smooth and the extended play Slappy in 1990, which were later combined with 1,000 Hours into the compilation 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours in 1991.

In 1990, Armstrong provided lead guitar and backing vocals on three songs for The Lookouts' final EP IV, which featured Tré Cool on drums. Tré became Green Day's drummer in late 1990 after Sobrante left in order to go to college. Cool made his debut on Green Day's second album, Kerplunk (1991).

In 1991, Armstrong joined the band Pinhead Gunpowder, consisting of bassist Bill Schneider, drummer Aaron Cometbus, and fellow vocalist/guitarist Sarah Kirsch. Kirsch left the group in 1992, and was replaced by Jason White. The group has released several extended plays and albums from 1991 to the present, and performs live shows on an intermittent basis.[14]

In 1993, Armstrong played live several times with California punk band Rancid. Rancid's lead singer, Tim Armstrong, asked Billie Joe Armstrong to join his band, but he refused due to his progress with Green Day. However, Billie Joe Armstrong was credited as a co-writer on Rancid's 1993 song, Radio.

With their third LP, Dookie (1994), Green Day broke through into the mainstream, and have remained one of the most popular rock bands of the 1990s and 2000s with over 60 million records sold worldwide.[15] The album was followed by Insomniac (1995), Nimrod (1997), and Warning (2000).

Armstrong collaborated with many artists. He co-wrote The Go-Go's 2001 song "Unforgiven". He has also co-written songs with Penelope Houston ("The Angel and The Jerk" and "New Day"), and sung backing vocals with Melissa Auf der Maur on Ryan Adams' "Do Miss America" (where they acted as the backing band for Iggy Pop on his album Skull Ring ("Private Hell" and "Supermarket"). Armstrong produced an album for The Riverdales. He was part of the Green Day side project The Network from 2003 to 2005, which became active again in 2020. The Network released two albums: 2003's Money Money 2020 and 2020's Money Money 2020 Part II: We Told Ya So!.

Hoping to clear his head and develop new ideas for songs, Armstrong traveled to New York City alone for a few weeks in 2003, renting a small apartment in the East Village of Manhattan.[16] He spent much of this time taking long walks and participating in jam sessions in the basement of Hi-Fi, a bar in Manhattan.[17] However, the friends he made during this time drank too much for his liking, which was the catalyst for Armstrong's return to the Bay Area.[17] After returning home, Armstrong was arrested for driving under the influence on January 5, 2003 and released on $1,200 bail.[17]

Armstrong performing with Green Day in 2005

In 2004, Green Day debuted American Idiot, their first rock opera. The album has sold more than 15,000,000 copies worldwide, fueled by the hit singles "American Idiot", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends".[18] In 2009, Green Day released 21st Century Breakdown, the band's second rock opera, which was another commercial success.[19] Between these two projects, Armstrong was the lead vocalist of the Green Day side project Foxboro Hot Tubs, who formed in 2007 and have performed intermittent live shows ever since. Foxboro Hot Tubs released one album, Stop Drop and Roll!!!, in 2008.[20][21]

In 2009, Armstrong formed a band called Rodeo Queens, along with members of Green Day and NYC punk rocker Jesse Malin. They released one song, along with a video, called "Depression Times".[22]

In 2009, American Idiot was adapted into a Broadway musical, also called American Idiot.[23] The musical won two Tony Awards. Armstrong appeared in American Idiot in the role of St. Jimmy for two stints in late 2010[24][25] and early 2011.[26]

In 2012, Green Day released a trio of albums: ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!.[27] In 2013, Armstrong appeared on Season 3 of NBC's The Voice as an assistant mentor for Christina Aguilera's team.[28] In 2013, Armstrong and singer-songwriter Norah Jones released the album Foreverly, consisting of covers of songs from The Everly Brothers' album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.[29] The first single from the album, "Long Time Gone", was released on October 23.

Armstrong in 2013

Armstrong also collaborated with the comedy hip hop group Lonely Island in their song "I Run NY" from The Wack Album released on June 7, 2013.[30] He starred alongside Leighton Meester in the 2014 film Like Sunday, Like Rain.[31] For his work in the film, Bilie Joe won the Breakout Performance Award at the 2014 Williamsburg Independent Film Festival.[32] Armstrong wrote songs for These Paper Bullets, a rock musical adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, which premiered at Yale Repertory Theater in March 2014.[33]

In 2014, Armstrong joined The Replacements for a number of shows beginning on April 19 at Coachella. Frontman Paul Westerberg had been suffering with back problems and spent the majority of the gig lying on a sofa while Armstrong helped play his parts. Westerberg referred to Billie Joe as an "expansion of the band".[34] Armstrong joined The Replacements on stage again at the Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta in May.[35]

In November 2014, Armstrong moved with his son Joseph to New York[36] and began working on another acting role, in the film Ordinary World. It was Armstrong's first lead acting role. The film centers on the mid-life crisis of a husband and father who attempts to revisit his punk past, and was released in 2016. It included new songs written and performed by Armstrong.[37][38] The film got mixed reviews, although Armstrong's own performance was generally praised, with The Village Voice writing that he had "a low-key charm suggesting that, if he desired it, he could get more onscreen gigs in between albums."[39]

In October 2016, Green Day released their latest album, Revolution Radio.[40] In July 2017, it was announced Armstrong formed a supergroup with Tim Armstrong of Rancid, aptly named The Armstrongs.[41]

Armstrong receiving his honorary Viggiano citizenship in June 2018

In April 2018, Armstrong formed the rock band The Longshot, and on April 20, the band released their debut studio album Love Is For Losers.[42] Shortly after, Armstrong announced that he and The Longshot would embark on a summer tour. Aside from Armstrong, the band's lineup consists of Kevin Preston and David S. Field of the band Prima Donna on lead guitar and drums, respectively, and longtime Green Day live member Jeff Matika on bass.[43]

In 2019, Armstrong co-wrote and performed the track "Strangers & Thieves" on the album Sunset Kids by Jesse Malin.[44]

Business ventures

In 1997, Armstrong co-founded Adeline Records, a rock and punk rock record label which had, in recent years, been managed by Pat Magnarella, Green Day's manager.[45] Adeline Records closed in August 2017 following Magnarella's split from Green Day.

In April 2015, Armstrong opened Broken Guitars, a guitar shop in Oakland, California with fellow Pinhead Gunpowder member and longtime Green Day associate, Bill Schneider.[46]

In December 2015, Armstrong and Mike Dirnt launched a coffee company, Oakland Coffee Works. The company sells organic coffee beans and is said to be the first company to use mass-produced compostable bags and pods.[47]

Instruments

Armstrong performing with "Blue" in 2015

Armstrong's first guitar was a Cherry Red Hohner acoustic, which his father bought for him. He received his first electric guitar, a Fernandes The Revival RST-50 Stratocaster that he named "Blue", when he was ten years old in 1982, the same year his dad died. His mother got "Blue" from George Cole, who taught Armstrong electric guitar for 10 years. Armstrong says in a 1995 MTV interview, "Basically, it wasn't like guitar lessons because I never really learned how to read music. So he just taught me how to put my hands on the thing." Cole bought the guitar new from David Margen of the band Santana. Cole gave Armstrong a Bill Lawrence L500XL Humbucker pickup and told him to install the pickup in the bridge position. Armstrong switched the L500XL with a white Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucker at Woodstock '94.

Armstrong later reinstalled the Bill Lawrence L500XL pickup before recording Insomniac, and used it for a long time after that, although he has switched to a black Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB in 1995. "Armstrong fetishized his teacher's guitar, partly because the blue instrument had a sound quality and Van Halen-worthy fluidity he couldn't get from his little red Hohner. He prized it mostly, however, because of his relationship with Cole, another father figure after the death of Andy."[48] He toured with this guitar from the band's early days and still uses it to this day.[49] Both middle and neck pickups are disconnected and the pickup selector locked in the bridge position also this apply to his backup guitar. "Blue" appears in a number of Green Day music videos such as "Longview", "Welcome to Paradise", "Basket Case", "Geek Stink Breath", "Stuck with Me", "Brain Stew/Jaded", "Hitchin' a Ride" and most recently in "Minority", "Blue" also appears on the album cover of Insomniac, the "BJ" on Blue is stand for Billie Joe, it was inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan which his Stratocaster has "SRV" on pickguard.

Today, Armstrong mainly uses Gibson and Fender guitars. Twenty of his Gibson guitars are Les Paul Junior models from the mid- to late-1950s.[50] His Fender collection includes: Stratocaster, Jazzmaster, Telecaster, a Gretsch hollowbody, Rickenbacker 360 and his copies of "Blue" from Fender Custom Shop. Recently he has begun giving away guitars to audience members invited to play on stage with Green Day, usually during the songs "Knowledge" or "Longview". He states that his favorite guitar is a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior he calls "Floyd". He bought this guitar in 2000 just before recording the album Warning.[51]

Armstrong also has three of his own Les Paul Junior signature models from Gibson. The first has been in production since 2006 and is modeled closely after "Floyd", Armstrong's original 1956 Les Paul Junior.[52] The second began production in 2012 and is a TV Yellow double-cutaway Junior. Both models include a Gibson "H-90" pickup, exclusive to Armstrong's models. Gibson has also released an extremely limited run of acoustic signature guitars.

He plays several other instruments as well as guitar. He recorded harmonica and mandolin parts on (Nimrod and Warning), piano parts on 21st Century Breakdown, American Idiot: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (2010) and ¡Tré!, and plays drums and bass from time to time.

Personal life

Relationships and sexuality

Armstrong has identified himself as bisexual, saying in a 1995 interview with The Advocate, "I think I've always been bisexual. I mean, it's something that I've always been interested in. I think people are born bisexual, and it's just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of, 'Oh, I can't.' They say it's taboo. It's ingrained in our heads that it's bad, when it's not bad at all. It's a very beautiful thing."[53] In an April 2010 interview for Out magazine, he stated, "There were a lot of people who didn't accept it, who were homophobic. The fact that it's an issue is kind of phobic within itself. At some point, you gotta think, this should be something that's just accepted. I don't really classify myself as anything. And when it comes to sex, there are parts of me that are very shy and conservative."[54] In February 2014, he again discussed his bisexuality in a Rolling Stone article about the Green Day album Dookie, which he described as "touch[ing] on bisexuality a lot".[55] About the song "Coming Clean", he said, "It was a song about questioning myself. There are these other feelings you may have about the same sex, the opposite sex, especially being in Berkeley and San Francisco then. People are acting out what they're feeling: gay, bisexual, transgender, whatever. And that opens up something in society that becomes more acceptable. Now we have gay marriage becoming recognized... I think it's a process of discovery. I was willing to try anything."[55]

Armstrong met his first serious girlfriend, Erica Paleno (also known as Arica Pelino), at 924 Gilman Street on his 16th birthday. She became known as the "first official Green Day fan" as she listened to the first four-track recordings by Armstrong and Sean Hughes, encouraging the band, touring with them and acting as an occasional photographer for them.[56][57][58] She inspired many of Green Day's well-known songs, including "Christie Road", which was written about the local railroad tracks where she and Armstrong would sneak out to meet.[59] When Armstrong began living in punk houses and warehouses at the age of seventeen, including the warehouse above a West Oakland brothel which ultimately inspired the song "Welcome to Paradise",[60] she would often stay with him despite the dangers of doing so, later saying, "I would stay with him sometimes in these warehouses full of crusty punks."[60] The couple split in late 1991. Paleno is the sister of former Green Day touring member Mike Pelino and the sister-in-law of Janna White, who is married to Green Day touring guitarist Jason White.

Shortly after his split with Paleno, Armstrong met a woman he has identified only as "Amanda" 924 Gilman Street, and they began dating. Amanda produced and distributed her own fan zine and was an "iron-willed" feminist, which enthralled Armstrong.[61] Amanda, however, was unimpressed with Armstrong; though the couple dated for some time, she ultimately dumped him in 1994 and joined the Peace Corps, leaving him feeling suicidal.[62] Armstrong stated in an interview with Spin about the inspiration behind the Green Day song "Armitage Shanks" in 1995: "It was right before Dookie came out and I was really at odds with myself. I was like, 'Man, do I really want to do this?' A lot of time I was thinking about suicide, how it's so easy to kill yourself, but it's so hard to stay alive. I was in a break-up with my then-girlfriend, a total, raving punk rocker who didn't approve of me being on a major label. She moved down to Ecuador saying she couldn't live in a world with McDonald's and such. It was fucking me up pretty bad."[63] Armstrong has written many songs about Amanda, both during their relationship and afterwards, including "She", "Good Riddance", "Stuart and the Ave", "Sassafras Roots", "Amanda", "She's a Rebel", "Extraordinary Girl", and "Whatsername". The character of Whatsername on the album American Idiot, and in the American Idiot musical, is based on Amanda.[64]

In 1990, Armstrong met Adrienne Nesser (the sister of professional skateboarder Steve Nesser) at one of Green Day's early performances in Minneapolis. They married on July 2, 1994, with Nesser discovering that she was pregnant the day after their wedding. Their first son, Joseph Marciano "Joey" Armstrong, was born on February 28, 1995. He would go on to play drums in the Oakland-based band SWMRS until accusations of sexual misconduct and coercion were made against him in 2020.[65] Their second son, Jakob Danger Armstrong, was born on September 12, 1998; he is a guitarist and singer-songwriter who released his first material online in 2015 and currently plays with the band Mt. Eddy. In a February 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Armstrong described his sudden marriage and fatherhood: "I was very impulsive at that time. I think that impulsive behavior was meant to counteract the chaos in my life."[55]

Fashion

Billie Joe Armstrong, musician, primarily of Green Day. Photograph was taken in Cardiff during the American Idiot tour, using a Casio QV-R40 35mm.
An inspired punk style by singer Billie Joe Armstrong vocalist of the band Green Day.
Armstrong performing (left) and a punk fashion fan (right) wearing an style inspired in him

Armstrong has been noted for his punk fashion style, which influenced his followers of previous and current generations to the point of being known as an «style icon».[66] He also launched an eye liner with Kat Von D named "Basket Case", which is a cosmetic that he implemented as part of his singing character since his beginnings.[67]

Political views

Armstrong supported Barack Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections,[68][69] and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.[70] Following Sanders' failure to become the Democratic nominee, Armstrong declared his support for Hillary Clinton.[71] He was critical of Donald Trump during the election and throughout Trump's presidency, calling him a "fascist" and a "puppet of the Illuminati",[72] comparing him to Adolf Hitler,[73] and blaming "uneducated white working-class people" for his rise to power.[74] In a 2017 Rolling Stone interview, he stated that he does not align himself with any political party and described himself as an independent.[75] He again supported Sanders during the 2020 presidential election, later endorsing Joe Biden after Sanders lost the primary.[76]

Other

In June 2018, Armstrong was given honorary citizenship of Viggiano, the Italian commune from where his great-great-grandparents hailed, by Viggiano's mayor Amedeo Cicala.[77] Armstrong is a member of the board of directors of Project Chimps, a sanctuary for former research chimpanzees funded in large part by the Humane Society of the United States.[78]

Controversies

Substance abuse

On September 21, 2012, during a Green Day performance at Las Vegas' iHeartRadio Music Festival, Armstrong became agitated onstage and stopped the band's set midway through their performance of the 1994 hit song "Basket Case". In an expletive-filled rant, Armstrong criticized the event's promoters for allegedly cutting short the band's performance, before smashing his guitar and storming off stage.[79] The band later issued a statement apologizing for the incident and clarifying that their set had not actually been cut short.[80] The incident occurred just four days prior to the release of Green Day's ninth studio album, ¡Uno![81]

Two days after the incident at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Green Day announced that Armstrong was seeking treatment for an unspecified substance abuse problem.[82][83] As a result, scheduled appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Ellen DeGeneres Show were canceled.[84] According to Claudia Suarez Wright, Tre Cool's ex-wife and the mother of Armstrong's godson, Armstrong had been drinking heavily in Las Vegas prior to the iHeartMusic Festival, following approximately one year of sobriety.[85][86]

Armstrong gave an interview to Rolling Stone in March 2013 in which he said that he had "been trying to get sober since 1997, right around Nimrod".[87] He discussed how, during the 21st Century Breakdown tour of 2009–2010, "There were meltdowns on that tour that were huge".[87] Armstrong detailed his addiction, in particular how it had escalated in the months prior to the release of the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre! albums and the performance at iHeartRadio, stating that during the band's 2011 summer tour of Europe, "I was at my pill-taking height at that time, medicating the shit out of myself".[88] Armstrong gave details of a gig at Irving Plaza in New York just over a week before the iHeartRadio incident, in which he "Threw back four or five beers before we went on and probably had four or five when we played. Then I drank my body weight in alcohol after that. I ended up hungover on the West Side Highway, laying in a little park."[88]

Green Day canceled all remaining concert dates for 2012 and early 2013 as Armstrong continued dealing with his personal problems.[89] In late December 2012, the band announced they would return to touring at the end of March 2013.[90] Armstrong later said that the substances he had been abusing were alcohol and prescription pills for anxiety and insomnia.[91]

Awards

Year Award Presented By
2008 50 Sexiest People in Rock (#1)[92] (Readers Choice) Kerrang!
2010 Top Frontmen of All Time (#25)[93] (Readers Choice) Gibson

Discography

Solo releases

Albums
Singles

Green Day

Pinhead Gunpowder

Vocals and guitar on all

The Network

Foxboro Hot Tubs

SWMRS

The Boo

  • The Boo (EP) (2011) – bass

The Shrives

  • Turn Me On (EP) (2015) – bass

The Longshot

  • The Longshot (EP) (2018) – vocals, guitar, bass, drums
  • Love Is for Losers (2018) – vocals, guitar, bass, drums
  • Devil's Kind (Single) (2018) - vocals, guitar, bass, drums
  • Bullets (Single) (2018) – vocals, guitar, bass, drums
  • Razor Baby (EP) (2018) – vocals, guitar, bass, drums
  • Return to Sender (EP) (2018) – vocals, guitar, bass, drums

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
2003 Riding in Vans with Boys Himself Documentary of The Pop Disaster Tour
2004 Disease Is Punishment Fink
2005 Bullet in a Bible Himself
2006 Live Freaky! Die Freaky! Charles Hanson Voice
2007 The Simpsons Movie Himself Voice
2008 Heart Like a Hand Grenade
2011 Awesome as Fuck
2012 One Nine Nine Four
This Is 40
2013 ¡Cuatro!
Broadway Idiot St. Jimmy
2014 Like Sunday, Like Rain Dennis
2016 Ordinary World Perry Miller

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1997 King of the Hill Face Voice
Episode: "The Man Who Shot Cane Skretteburg"
2002 Haunted Irv Kratser Episode: "Simon Redux"
2012 Nurse Jackie Jackie's Pickup Episode: "Kettle-Kettle-Black-Black"
The Voice Himself 5 episodes
2016 Drunk History Charlie Chaplin Episode: "Legends"

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2006 Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Himself Likeness
2010 Green Day: Rock Band Also likeness and archive footage

Stage

Year Title Role Notes
2010–2011 American Idiot St. Jimmy 76 performances

See also

References

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