Billie Joe Armstrong
Born in 1972, Billie Joe Armstrong started performing at a young age. He was in his teens when he first joined forces with Mike Dirnt, playing as Sweet Children and later as Green Day. Green Day really began to take off with the 1992 album Kerplunk and hit the big time two years later with Dookie, their first major label release. Armstrong and his band mates later created the critically and commercially successful rock opera album American Idiot (2004). Outside of Green Day, he has performed and recorded with Pinhead Gunpowder. More recently, he and Norah Jones released Foreverly in 2013.
Born on February 17, 1972, in Oakland, California (some sources say Berkeley), Billie Joe Armstrong is the lead singer with the hugely successful punk-influenced rock trio Green Day. He is the youngest of six children and grew up in Rodeo, California, a blue-collar town near Berkeley. Armstrong started singing as a child and even recorded a song when he was only 5 years old. His father, a musician and a truck driver, gave him his first guitar. Armstrong was only 10 years old when his father died of cancer. This was a tremendous loss for him, and he later wrote about his father's death in the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
Around the time of his father's passing, Armstrong met Mike Dirnt (originally Michael Pritchard). The pair shared a love of punk rock, especially the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. They later formed their own band, which was first known as Sweet Children and later became Green Day. Armstrong was still in high school when they first began playing gigs, but he eventually dropped out. He performed at small punk clubs in California with his group, which included John Kiftmayer on drums at the time. The band eventually landed a deal with Lookout! Records, an independent label, and Green Day put out their first EP in 1989.
By the release of Kerplunk in 1992, Armstrong had formed a powerful trio with Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool. The success of this album helped the band move to a major record label. Green Day made the debut on Reprise Records in 1994 with Dookie. Before long, Green Day's infectious pop-punk sound was winning over millions of fans. Their video for "Longview" got heavy play on MTV and introduced this edgy trio to the nation. The record eventually sold more than 8 million copies.
That same year, Armstrong and his band mates performed at the Woodstock festival. In keeping with their tradition of unusual stage antics, they got into a mud fight with the audience. In 1995, Green Day continued their fast and furious pace with the release of Insomniac. Armstrong also worked on side projects outside of Green Day, performing and recording with Pinhead Gunpowder.
Green Day continued to produce new music as well. Nimrod (1997) gave listeners some insights to Armstrong's personal struggles. He delved into his substance abuse issues with the song "Hitchin' A Ride." With "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," Armstrong explored the ending of a relationship. This ballad proved to be another hit for the group, but their next album, Warning (2000), showed a marked decline in sales for the band.
Armstrong returned to top form with the rock opera American Idiot (2004), which was filled with social and political themes. He picked up a Grammy Award for the album and later adapted the work for the stage. The musical American Idiot debuted in Berkeley in 2009 and later had a run on Broadway. Armstrong went on to explore more cultural issues with 2009's 21st Century Breakdown.
After struggling with alcohol, pills and sleep problems for a long time, Armstrong seemed to come unhinged just as Green Day was set to release their most ambitious project to date. The group was preparing to issue three albums, ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!, within weeks of each other in late 2012. That September, Armstrong took the stage at a musical festival in Las Vegas. He performed briefly with his band before he launched into an ugly outburst. Shortly after this meltdown, Armstrong went into rehab. The band's new records were overshadowed by his personal problems and concert dates to promote the albums had to be canceled.
The following year, Armstrong released an unusual recording. He and Norah Jones teamed up to record their take on the Everly Brothers' 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, calling their record Foreverly. The following year, Armstrong and his Green Day band mates learned that they had earned a special honor. The group will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 along with Joan Jett, Stevie Ray Vaughn and several others. Armstrong, as he told Rolling Stone magazine, is thrilled about the honor: "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has always held something for me because my heroes were in there."
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