Billie Joe Armstrong is best known as the lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist of the punk rock band, Green Day. Founded in 1986 by Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt, Green Day went from underground hit to commercial sensation in the mid-1990s when their first major record release, Dookie (1994), sold over 10 million units. Since then, they’ve enjoyed on almost unbroken series of successes, and (along with Sublime, Bad Religion and The Offspring) are widely credited as the reason punk rock hit the mainstream. With a new album (Father of All… ), a tour, and a headline performance at Comic-Con already in the works for 2020, the band clearly has a few more years to go before retiring quietly into the realms of rock history. Find out more about their lead vocalist with these 10 quick facts.
1. He recorded his first song when he was five
There’s starting young and then there’s starting young, By the time he was five, Armstrong had already recorded his first song under the encouragement of his teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in Rodeo. The song in question, “Look for Love”, was recorded on the Bay Area label Fiat Records. After the divorce of his parents and his mother’s remarriage, Armstrong retreated further into music: at the age of ten, he bonded with fellow music lover Mike Dirnt in their school cafeteria, and 4 years later, they formed their first band, Sweet Children (later to be renamed Green Day).
2. He joined Pinhead Gunpowder in 1991
While Armstrong is primarily known for his association with Green Day, he also regularly performs with other bands. In 1991, he joined bassist Bill Schneider, drummer Aaron Cometbus, and fellow vocalist/guitarist Sarah Kirsch in the band Pinhead Gunpowder, releasing several EPs and albums in the following years. He’s also performed live on several occasions with the Californian punk band, Rancid, and is credited as co-writer on their 1993 track, Radio.
3. He appeared in the musical adaptation of American Idiot
In 2004, Green Day released its enormously successful rock opera album, American Idiot. 5 years later, the album was given a new spin when it was adapted into a Broadway musical. The production proved just as successful as the album and even managed to pick up two Tony Awards during its run. Armstrong can take more than a little credit for its success: during 2010, he spent 2 stints playing the character of Jimmy, before returning to the role again in 2011.
4. He’s collaborated with Norah Jones
Norah Jones and Armstrong may be as different as night and day when it comes to their usual musical output, but that didn’t stop the two teaming up for an album of Everly Brother’s covers in 2012. The album was well-received by critics, with Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic noting, “They’re a good match. Jones’ suppleness sands down Armstrong’s ragged voice, he gives her grit while she lends him grace, and these qualities are evident throughout this lovely little gem of an album.” It was also welcomed warmly by listeners, who sent it to number 19 on the Billboard 200 chart in January 2014.
5. His relationships have inspired his writing
Armstrong’s early relationships (and their subsequent endings) have inspired many of his greatest songs. One of his first serious girlfriends, Erica Paleno, is credited as the inspiration behind “Christie Road”, which Armstrong wrote about the railroad tracks where he and Paleno would often meet. His troubled relationship with a woman known only as “Amanda”, meanwhile, spawned a slew of tracks, including “She”, “Good Riddance”, “Stuart And The Ave”, “Sassafras Roots”, “Amanda”, “She’s A Rebel”, and “Extraordinary Girl”. She’s also credited as the inspiration behind the hero, “Whatsername”, on American Idiot.
6. He came under fire for working with Morrisey
In February 2019, Armstrong came under fire when it was announced he and several other musicians would be appearing on an album (California Son) by British singer-songwriter Morrisey. Once an iconic figure in popular culture, Morrissey’s outspoken views on English national identity and race have, in recent years, turned him into a highly polarizing figure. “What possible reason could any of these people have for lining up behind Morrissey now?” Fader asked.. a question Armstrong and, indeed, most of Morrisey’s collaborators failed to respond to.
7. He describes himself as an Independent
Despite expressing support for several Democratic party candidates over the years (in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, he came out in support of Barack Obama, while in the 2016 presidential campaign, he switched allegiance from Bernie Saunders to Hilary Clinton after the former failed to become the Democratic candidate), Armstrong has stated he doesn’t align himself to any established political party, and prefers to consider himself an Independent.
8. He’s been treated for substance addiction
Following a series of bizarre onstage antics in the fall of 2012, Armstrong revealed he was seeking help for a substance abuse problem. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Armstrong admitted he’d been trying to get clean for years. “I’ve been trying to get sober since 1997, right around Nimrod,” he claimed. Green Day subsequently canceled all their planned concert dates for 2012 and early 2013, before finally resuming their touring schedule in late March 2013.
9. He’s worth $55 million
As the lead vocalist, principal songwriter and guitarist of Green Day, Armstrong sits at the center of one of punk rock’s most successful bands- a position that’s not without its rewards. According to Celebrity Net Worth, the multi-talented musician is today worth a hefty $55 million.
10. He’s had trouble with the law
Over the years, Armstrong has had more than his fair share of legal troubles. His first brush with the law came in 1996 when he was arrested for indecent exposure after a show in Wisconsin. In 2003, he was arrested for a DUI, while in 2011, he was somewhat bizarrely kicked off a plane for wearing low riding pants.