Also Credited As:Billy Joe Armstrong
|February 17, 1972|
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Billie Joe Armstrong was born on Feb. 17, 1972 in the urban enclave of Piedmont, CA - a small town surrounded by the less-affluent city of Oakland - and raised in the nearby town of Rodeo. The youngest of six children, he was the son of Andy Armstrong, a jazz musician and truck driver, and Ollie, who worked as a waitress at the local barbeque restaurant, Rod's Hickory Pit. Exhibiting an interest in music from an early age, at five years old he recorded a song titled "Look for Love" for Fiat Records, a small, local record company. In 1982, Armstrong met fellow student Mike Dirnt in the cafeteria at Rodeo Elementary School, and the two formed an immediate bond. Tragedy struck the Armstrong household when Armstrong's father died of esophageal cancer in September of that same year. Billie was only 10 years old. Although Ollie remarried soon after her husband's death, by all accounts, Armstrong detested the man, going so far as to pen the song "Why Do You Want Him?" at the age of 14, the first song he had ever written. Taught to play the guitar by a family friend and influenced by the love of punk rock instilled in him by his older brothers, Armstrong and Dirnt formed the band Sweet Children in 1987. Playing guitar alongside Dirnt, in addition to a bass player and drummer, the group played their first show at Rod's Hickory Pit - where Armstrong and Dirnt also worked as busboys. Later, just a day before his 18th birthday and midway through his senior year, Armstrong dropped out of Pinole High School in order to pursue his musical aspirations fulltime.
After the band's original bass player left in 1988, Armstrong convinced Dirnt to pick up the instrument, and along with drummer John Kiffmeyer, they began playing small local venues. In 1989 the group changed its name to Green Day, debuting with the release of an album and two EPs, which were later combined and re-issued as the album 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours under the Lookout! Records label. As part of the burgeoning Bay Area punk scene, Green Day performed frequently at 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages, non-profit cooperative music club, primarily showcasing punk bands without major label deals. Drummer Tré Cool joined the line up in 1990 after Kiffmeyer departed for college, and with the permanent roster now set, Green Day released its second studio album Kerplunk in 1992. Despite being distributed by a small label, the album sold exceptionally well, furthering Green Day's underground status and attracting the attention of several major record companies. Deciding that they had outgrown Lookout!, the band signed with Reprise Records and began working on a follow-up album with producer Rob Cavallo. Recorded in less than a month, Dookie was released in early 1994 and quickly became a breakout hit, with several song videos enjoying heavy rotation on MTV. Songs like "Longview" and "When I Come Around" reached No.1 positions on the Alternative Songs chart, and the band embarked on a nationwide tour in support of the album. By the time they took the stage at the Lollapalooza music festival in 1994, Green Day had become one of the hottest alternative rock bands in the country.
Like any group of young rockers experiencing sudden popularity, Armstrong and the boys enjoyed living up to expectation. Taking a break from the Lollapalooza tour, Green Day performed at Woodstock '94 - later dubbed "Mudstock '94," due largely to the band's instigation of an out-of-control mud fight with the audience. Dookie would eventually go on to achieve Diamond-level record sales, and in 1995 won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album. After the single "J.A.R.," from the motion picture soundtrack "Angus" (1995) debuted at No. 1 on the charts, Armstrong and the band released Green Day's Insomniac in the fall of 1995. Although their fourth effort sold well initially, it failed to achieve the sustained popularity that the previous album had benefited from. While singles like "Geek Stink Breath" - a sardonic ode to methamphetamine use - were moderately successful on the charts, several critics chastised the band for a perceived lack of musical growth, despite Armstrong's darker lyrics and guitar-crunching chords. After a slew of nominations in 1996, including three from the American Music Awards, Green Day suddenly canceled a scheduled European tour, citing exhaustion. Over the course of the hiatus, Armstrong, producer Cavallo, and the band put together Nimrod, their fifth studio album, released in the fall of 1997. Considerably more experimental than its predecessors, in was primarily notable for producing the hit single "Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life)," an acoustic ballad about moving on with one's life, which became an instant favorite at high school graduation ceremonies and would later send off the beloved sitcom, "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) during its final 1998 send-off.
In 2000, Green Day unveiled Warning, their first Reprise album produced without Cavallo. Moving even further away from the band's early post-punk aesthetic, the record divided critics. While some felt that Armstrong's lyrics exhibited both personal and artistic maturity, others argued that the band's latest effort lacked passion and exemplified a music act that had lost its direction. Achieving only gold record status, Warning became Green Day's lowest selling album with Reprise up to that point. In 2002, Green Day toured with the band Blink-182, an alt-rock group experiencing the kind of popularity Armstrong and his band had enjoyed eight years prior. To many, it was telling that Green Day opened for Blink during the tour, illustrating, some said, their growing irrelevance within the scene. After an aborted attempt to record a new album, a brief collaboration with American punk icon Iggy Pop, and some airing of dirty laundry between Armstrong and his band mates, Green Day released American Idiot in 2004. Described as a "punk rock opera," it debuted at No. 1 - the first Green Day album to achieve such a feat. An undeniable smash success, the record featured a hit single of the same name that was decidedly ant-war and anti-President Bush, won a 2005 Grammy for Best Rock Album, and instigated a massive worldwide tour. Armstrong and Green Day were clearly back on top, with the album's second single "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" spending a record 16 weeks in the No. 1 position on the charts, and going on to win a Grammy for Record of the Year. More popular than ever, Green Day made an animated cameo as themselves in "The Simpsons Movie" (2007), in which they provided a rocking version of composer Danny Elfman's iconic theme song.
With the renewed success provided by their latest album, Armstrong, Dirnt and Cool allowed themselves the freedom to pursue various side projects. In 2008, under the nom de guerre Foxboro Hot Tubs, they released an album titled Stop Drop and Roll!, and embarked on a mini-tour of small venues in and around the Bay Area in support of the effort. Armstrong continued to write songs for Green Day's next album and after a five-year interval, they at last released 21st Century Breakdown in the spring of 2009. Produced by Butch Vig, drummer for the alternative rock group Garbage, the album was another loosely constructed punk opera, albeit on a more grandiose scale than the previous release. Written entirely by Armstrong, songs like "21 Guns" were deeply personal expressions of discontentment and disassociation with Bush-era American life. Breakdown received mostly positive critical reviews and went on to reach the No. 1 spot on album charts in several countries, making it far and away Green Day's most successful record up to that point, despite the fact that retail chain Walmart refused to carry the "parental advisory"-tagged CD. Come awards season, the record cleaned house, winning Grammys for Best Rock Album, Best Rock song ("21 Guns"), an MTV Video Music Award, and several other top industry prizes.
In the spring of 2009, Armstrong and the band collaborated with stage director Michael Mayer and several performers to create "American Idiot: The Musical." The show opened at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in late 2009, before moving to Broadway the following year, where it garnered two Tony Awards for technical achievement. For his part, Armstrong played the role of St. Jimmy for a number of performances during the Broadway show, resulting in a significant increase in ticket sales. 2010 also saw the release of the band-centric video game "Green Day: Rock Band," exclusively featuring the group's most successful songs. In March of 2011 Green Day released the live CD/DVD Awesome as F**k, while the following year he was named as a mentor for Christina Aguilera's team on the singing competition series, "The Voice" (NBC, 2011- ). Armstrong began taping his segments for the third season of the show in July 2012, which was set to air later that September. Coincidentally, Green Day planned to release their album, Uno!, at the end of that same month - the first of three recordings to be released in quick succession.