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Billie Joe Armstrong

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Billie Joe Armstrong
RiP2013 GreenDay Billie Joe Armstrong 0021.jpg
Armstrong performing in 2015
Background information
Birth name Billie Joe Armstrong
Also known as Wilhelm Fink
Reverend Strychnine Twitch
Born (1972-02-17) February 17, 1972 (age 44)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Origin Rodeo, California, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • actor
Instruments
Years active 1986–present
Labels
Associated acts
Notable instruments

Billie Joe Armstrong (born February 17, 1972)[1] is an American musician, singer, songwriter and actor who is best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and guitarist of the punk rock band Green Day, which he co-founded with Mike Dirnt. 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 and The Network.

Raised in Rodeo, California, Armstrong developed an interest in music at a young age, and recorded his first song at the age of five. He met Mike 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 15 years old. The band changed its name to Green Day, and would later achieve massive commercial success. Armstrong has also pursued musical projects outside of Green Day's work, including numerous collaborations with other musicians.

In 1997, to coincide with the release of Nimrod, Armstrong founded Adeline Records in Oakland to help support other bands releasing music and signed bands such as The Frustrators, AFI and Dillinger Four. The record company has since come under the management of Pat Magnarella.[2]

Early life

Billie Joe Armstrong was born in Oakland, California[3] and raised in nearby Rodeo, the youngest of six children of Andrew "Andy" Armstrong and Ollie Jackson.[4] His father worked as a jazz musician and truck driver for Safeway Inc. to support his family. He died of esophageal cancer[4] on September 10, 1982. The song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a memorial to his father. He has five older siblings: David, Alan, Marci, Hollie, and Anna. His mother worked at Rod's Hickory Pit[4] restaurant in El Cerrito, where Armstrong and Dirnt played their first gig in 1987. Armstrong is of Scotch-Irish, English, Scottish, Italian, Spanish, German, and Welsh descent.[5]

Armstrong's interest in music started at a young age. He attended Hillcrest Elementary School in Rodeo, where a teacher encouraged him to record a song titled "Look for Love" at the age of five on the Bay Area label Fiat Records.[4][6] 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, Armstrong met Mike Dirnt in the school cafeteria and they immediately bonded over their love of music.[4] He became interested in punk rock after being introduced to punk rock by his brothers.[7] Armstrong has also cited Minneapolis-based bands The Replacements and Hüsker Dü as major musical influences. Armstrong and Mike Dirnt's first live performance under the name Green Day was in Davis, a town approximately an hour's drive northeast of the San Francisco Bay area.

Along with Hillcrest Elementary, Armstrong attended Carquinez Middle School and John Swett High School, both in Crockett, and later transferred to Pinole Valley High School in Pinole. On his 18th birthday (February 17, 1990), he dropped out to pursue his musical career.

Career

Early career

Armstrong performing in 1994

In 1986, aged 14, Armstrong formed a band called Sweet Children with his childhood friend Mike Dirnt. In the beginning, Dirnt and Armstrong both played guitar, with John Kiffmeyer, also known as Al Sobrante, on drums,[8] and Sean Hughes on bass. 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.[9]

In 1989, Armstrong provided lead guitar and backing vocals on three songs for The Lookouts' final EP IV.

That same year, 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.

Tré Cool 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 (1992).

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

Dookie and mainstream success

With their next album, Dookie (1994), the band 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.[10]

2000-present: continued success, collaborations and musical theater

Armstrong has 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 Skull Ring album ("Private Hell" and "Supermarket")). Armstrong produced an album for The Riverdales. He was part of the side project The Network, which existed from 2003 to 2005 and released the album Money Money 2020.

Hoping to clear his head and develop new ideas for songs, Armstrong traveled to New York City alone for a few weeks, renting a small apartment in the East Village of Manhattan.[11] He spent much of this time taking long walks and participating in jam sessions in the basement of Hi-Fi, a bar in Manhattan.[12] 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.[12] After returning home, Armstrong was arrested on DUI charges on January 5, 2003, and released on $1,200 bail.[12]

Armstrong performing in 2013

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".[13] In 2009 Green Day released 21st Century Breakdown, the band's second rock opera, which was another commercial success.[14]

In 2009, American Idiot was turned into a musical on Broadway, also called American Idiot.[15] The musical won two Tony Awards. Armstrong appeared in American Idiot in the role of St. Jimmy twice, in late 2010[16][17] and early 2011.[18]

In 2013, Armstrong appeared on Season 3 of NBC's The Voice as an assistant mentor for Christina Aguilera's team.[19]

Armstrong wrote songs for These Paper Bullets, a rock musical adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. The Yale Repertory Theater premiered the show in March 2014.[20]

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.[21] He starred alongside Leighton Meester in the 2014 film Like Sunday, Like Rain.[22]

Armstrong performing at Rock am Ring and Rock im Park in 2013

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.[23] The first single from the album, "Long Time Gone", was released on October 23.

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".[24] Armstrong joined The Replacements on stage again at the Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta in May.[25]

In November 2014 Armstrong moved with his son Joseph to New York[26] and began working on another acting role, in the film Geezer. It will be Armstrong's first lead acting role, and centers on the mid-life crisis of a husband and father who attempts to revisit his punk past. The film will include new songs written and performed by Armstrong.[27][28]

Instruments

Armstrong performing in 2009 with "Blue".

Armstrong's first guitar was a Cherry Red Hohner acoustic, which his father bought for him. He then received his first electric guitar, a Fernandes Stratocaster that he named "Blue" when he was eleven. 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 Humbucking pickup and told him to install the pickup in the bridge position. After the pickup was destroyed at Woodstock '94, Armstrong then used a Duncan JB model. "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."[29] He toured with this guitar from the band's early days and still uses it to this day.[30] "Blue" also appears in a number of its music videos such as "Longview", "Basket Case", "Brain Stew/Jaded", "Hitchin' a Ride", and most recently in "Minority".

Armstrong performing with "Blue" in 2010

Today, Armstrong mainly uses Gibson and Fender guitars. Twenty of his Gibson guitars are Les Paul Junior models from the mid- to late-1950s.[31] His Fender collection includes: Stratocaster, Jazzmaster, Telecaster, a Gretsch hollowbody and his copies of "Blue". 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 their album Warning.[32]

Armstrong also has two 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.[33] 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. He recorded harmonica and mandolin parts in the past (Nimrod and Warning), piano parts on 21st Century Breakdown (2009), American Idiot: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (2011) and ¡Tré! (2012), and plays drums live from time to time.

Personal life

Armstrong met his first serious girlfriend, Erica Paleno (also known as Arica Pelino), inside the Gilman music club on his sixteenth birthday. Erica became known as the "first official Green Day fan" as she listened to the first four-track recordings by Billie and Sean, encouraging the band, touring with them and acting as occasional photographer for the band.[34][35][36] Erica inspired many of Green Day's well known songs including Christie Road which was written for her by Armstrong about the local tracks where the couple would sneak out to and meet at.[37] 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"[38] Erica would often stay with him despite the dangers, "I would stay with him sometimes in these warehouses full of crusty punks".[38] The couple split in late 1991. Erica is the sister of former Green Day touring member (2004-2005) Mike Pelino and sister-in-law of Janna White, wife of Green Day guitarist Jason White.

Shortly after his split with Erica, Armstrong met a woman he has identified only as "Amanda" at Gilman, and they started dating. Amanda produced and distributed her own zine and was an iron-willed feminist, which enthralled Armstrong.[39] Amanda, however, was unimpressed with Armstrong and though the couple dated for some time she ultimately dumped him in 1993[40] and joined the Peace Corps. Armstrong has written many songs about Amanda, both during their relationship and afterwards, including "She", "Good Riddance", "Stuart And The Ave", "Sassafrass Roots", "Amanda", "She's A Rebel", "Extraordinary Girl" and "Whatsername". The hero, "Whatsername", on the album American Idiot, and in the American Idiot musical, is based on Amanda.[41]

In 1990, Armstrong met Adrienne Nesser (Steve Nesser's sister) at one of Green Day's early performances in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They married on July 2, 1994; the day after their wedding, Adrienne discovered that she was pregnant. Armstrong's son, Joseph Marciano Armstrong, who was born on February 28, 1995, plays drums in a Berkeley-based band named SWMRS. Billie Joe's second son Jakob Danger (born September 12, 1998) is a guitarist and singer/songwriter who released his first material online in 2015. In a February 2014 interview with Rolling Stone Armstrong described how his sudden marriage and having a son was "mental"[42] saying, "I was very impulsive at that time. I think that impulsive behavior was meant to counteract the chaos in my life."[42]

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."[43] In a later interview for Out magazine's April 2010 issue, Armstrong stated: "There were a lot of people who didn't accept it, who were homophobic." Armstrong continued, saying, "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." Armstrong added: "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."[44] In February 2014, Armstrong again discussed his bisexuality in a Rolling Stone article about Dookie, a record which Armstrong described as "touch[ing] on bisexuality a lot."[42] Armstrong discussed the song "Coming Clean" stating, "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." [42]

Armstrong performing at the Fox Theatre in March 2013 during Green Day's first show since Armstrong left rehab.

Political views

Armstrong supported Barack Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.[45][46] Armstrong supported Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential election.[47]

Business ventures

In 1997, Armstrong co-founded Adeline Records, a rock and punk rock record label that is now managed by Pat Magnarella, Green Day's manager.[48]

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.[49]

In December 2015, Armstrong along with 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.[50]

Incidents

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.[51] The band later issued a statement apologizing for the incident and clarifying that their set had not actually been cut short.[52] The incident occurred just four days prior to the release of Green Day's ninth studio album, ¡Uno![53]

On September 23, 2012, two days following the incident at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Green Day announced that Armstrong was seeking treatment for an unspecified substance abuse problem.[54][55] As a result, scheduled appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Ellen DeGeneres Show were canceled.[56] 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.[57][58] Armstrong gave an interview to Rolling Stone in March 2013 in which he admitted, "I've been trying to get sober since 1997, right around Nimrod".[59] Armstrong discussed how during the 21st Century Breakdown tour in 2009–2010, "There were meltdowns on that tour that were huge".[60] Armstrong detailed his addiction and in particular how it had escalated in the months prior to the release of the Trilogy albums and the performance at iHeart stating that during the summer while touring in Europe, "I was at my pill-taking height at that time, medicating the shit out of myself".[59] Armstrong gave details of a gig at Irving Plaza in New York just over a week before the iHeart incident 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."[59] Green Day subsequently canceled all remaining concert dates for 2012 and early 2013 as Armstrong continued dealing with his personal problems.[61] In late December, the band announced they would return to touring at the end of March.[62] Armstrong later admitted that the substances he had been abusing were alcohol and prescription pills for anxiety and insomnia.[63]

Awards

Year Award Presented By
2008 50 Sexiest People in Rock (#1)[64] (Readers Choice) Kerrang!
2010 Top Frontmen of All Time (#25)[65] (Readers Choice) Gibson

Discography

Green Day

Main article: Green Day discography

Pinhead Gunpowder

Vocals and guitar on all

The Network

Foxboro Hot Tubs

With Norah Jones

Swmrs

The Boo

  • The Boo (EP) (2011) – bass

Matt Grocott & The Shrives

  • Turn Me On (EP) (2015) – bass

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
2003 Riding in Vans with Boys Himself
2004 Disease Is Punishment Fink
2005 Bullet in a Bible Himself
2006 Live Freaky! Die Freaky! Charles Hanson Voice only
2007 The Simpsons Movie Himself Voice only
2008 Heart Like a Hand Grenade Himself
2011 Awesome as Fuck Himself
2012 One Nine Nine Four Himself
2012 This Is 40 Himself
2013 ¡Cuatro! Himself
2013 Broadway Idiot Himself
2014 Like Sunday, Like Rain Dennis
2015 Geezer Perry
TBA American Idiot Producer

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"
2012 The Voice Himself 5 episodes

Video games

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

Stage

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

References

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External links