Billie Joe Armstrong was born on February 17, 1972 in Oakland, California. Growing up in a large family of six children (Armstrong being the youngest), Billie describes his childhood as a very disconnected one. He noted that dinner was often comprised of microwaved TV dinners which the kids would eat at whatever time they decided to come home. However, as untraditional and disconnected as Armstrong's early family life was, he has remarked on numerous occasions that he had an extremely close relationship with his father (Andy Armstrong). Armstrong's father worked two jobs as both a truck driver and a jazz musician to keep the family afloat. Although they were a generally poor working class family, Armstrong claims that he learned from a young age to be comfortable with what he had been given and happy that he had not been given a worse lot in life. Likely due to his father's own passion, Armstrong developed an interest in music at an early age. His father purchased him an acoustic guitar (a Cherry Red Hohner) at an early age and he later received a blue Fernandes Stratocaster from his mother when he was ten years old. Furthermore, one of his elementary school teachers noticed his talent for singing at a young age, pushing him to record "Look For Love" on Fiat Records (a local label). However, Armstrong's father passed away due to throat cancer when he was ten years old, which proved to have a profound effect on his life; and is perhaps one of the reasons for which he still holds onto his "blue" guitar (although he only plays live with replicas of the guitar nowadays, after the original was damaged in the infamous 1994 Woodstock mudfight) for the sentimental value which it holds. Shortly after his father's passing, Armstrong's mother remarried another man who was hated by all of the Armstrong children. The anger which Armstrong felt in accordance with these events led to his increasing progression towards songwriting as a creative outlet in which he could express his anger and angst. This prompted Armstrong to write his first song at the age of fourteen (which would later appear on 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
) titled "Why Do You Want Him?".
Though originally interested in metal, Armstrong claims that it was the song "Holidays in the Sun" by the Sex Pistols which diverted his musical interests to punk. While attending Pinole Valley High School, Armstrong formed a band (on vocals and guitar) with friend Mike Pritchard (later rechristened Mike Dirnt, on bass and backing vocals) called Sweet Children in 1987. With drummer John Kiffmeyer (acknowledged as Al Sobrante on records), the trio recorded two EPs (1,000 Hours and Slappy) and an LP (39/Smooth) that would be released on Lawrence Livermore's Lookout! records. The EPs would later be combined with 39/Smooth to become a single LP titled 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
. Quickly establishing themselves in the Bay Area punk scene, Sweet Children (changing their name to Green Day after hearing the term on Sesame Street
and finding humor in the connotations of marijuana which it held for them) became regulars at the seminal 924 Gilman Street venue. As the band's popularity continued to rise, Armstrong dropped out of high school in 1989 so that he would have more time to focus on his work with the band. Soon after, Green Day began touring the nation, during which Armstrong met future wife Adrienne Nesser at a show in Minnesota. Though Green Day's notoriety continued to rise, Kiffmeyer announced his departure in late 1990 in the interest of going to college. Both Armstrong and Dirnt had no interest in quitting however, and they soon recruited fellow Lookouts!
drummer Frank Edwin Wright III (more commonly known by nickname Tre Cool) to join them. In 1991, with Cool behind the kit, they released Kerplunk!
. The album would go on to become one of the best selling independent records ever (having sold 10,000 copies on the day of its release). Though primarily concerned with his work in Green Day, Armstrong also co-wrote the song "Radio" with Tim Armstrong for fellow punk band Rancid
. Tim would eventually ask Billie to join Rancid
; but Billie refused, however, in the interest of focusing his full attention and full effort on Green Day.
In 1994, Armstrong and Green Day alienated much of their underground punk fanbase by signing to major label Reprise Records. After the underground success of Kerplunk!
, Green Day had received much interest from major labels in the wake of the mainstream punk boom brought about by Nirvana's seminal 1991 album Nevermind
. Though the band was initially very unreceptive to the major labels' desperate attempts to sign Green Day (Armstrong remembers one record executive going as far as to invite the band to Disneyland to talk abut a deal); the band changed their mind when meeting producer Rob Cavallo, whom Armstrong claimed felt the same way about music as the band did, inspiring them to sign to Reprise. Green Day released their major-label debut (Dookie,
produced by Cavallo) in 1994 and the band's popularity skyrocketed. Due to the huge popularity of its three chart-topping singles ("Longview", "Basketcase", and "When I Come Around") and their raucous live shows (notably the infamous 1994 Woodstock show; at which the band started an enormous mud fight and Dirnt was tackled by a security guard, chipping his tooth, mistaking him for a fan that completely covered in mud) resulted in the album being certified 10x Platinum in the United States by the RIAA. In the wake of their huge success, many of their older fans from the punk scene disowned them: claiming that they had gone corporate and "sold out". Though there were many others that supported the band's decision, arguing that the band still sounded the same as they had when on Lookout! Records,
if not better: as the attack of the music seemed to be only larger and more refined on Dookie
. Furthermore, Green Day was 86'd (a term in the punk community which implies that the band has been banned from performing there) from 924 Gilman Street
, the venue which they had considered home. Though Armstrong argued that the band did whatever they wanted to do and thus represented the independent punk spirit, the backlash from the punk community got to the band and resulted in the release of a much harder and more aggressive album in 1995's Insomniac
. The album produced another chart-topping single in "Brain Stew/Jaded" and the band continued to ride an enormous wave of success, but nonetheless, the band still received much hate from the punk community. Furthermore, Armstrong played guitar and sang in side project Pinhead Gunpowder
with future touring guitarist Jason White, bassist Bill Schneider and fanzine writer/drummer Aaron Cometbus. Mike Kirsch initially played guitar and sang in the band as well, but left when he became angered over the mainstream success of Armstrong and Green Day. The band's records were released on Lookout!
- 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (Green Day, 1991)
- Kerplunk! (Green Day, 1992)
- Dookie (Green Day, 1994)
- Jump Salty (Pinhead Gunpowder, 1994)
- Insomniac (Green Day, 1995)
- Carry the Banner (Pinhead Gunpowder, 1995)
- Goodbye Ellston Avenue (Pinhead Gunpowder, 1997)
- Nimrod (Green Day, 1997)
- Shoot the Moon (Pinhead Gunpowder, 1999) (EP)
- Warning (Green Day, 2000)
- International Superhits! (Green Day, 2001)
- Shenanigans (Green Day, 2002)
- Money Money 2020 (The Network, 2003)
- Compulsive Disclosure (Pinhead Gunpowder, 2003)
- American Idiot (Green Day, 2004)
- Bullet in a Bible (Green Day, 2005) (Live Album)
- Stop Drop and Roll!!! (Foxboro Hottubs, 2008)
- West Side Highway (Pinhead Gunpowder, 2008) (EP)
- 21st Century Breakdown (Green Day, 2009)