Green Day: Rocking Our World
Starting as a high school garage band in the East Bay suburbs, Green Day wound up becoming one of the biggest acts in rock history. In honor of the group’s long-awaited new album, Diablo takes a look at the indelible marks they are leaving on our region.
Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool—aka Green Day—regularly play sold-out shows in 60,000-capacity arenas.
Photo by Pamela Littky
Green Day's beginnings were very humble.
Cofounders Billie Joe Armstrong (vocals and guitar) and Mike Dirnt (bass) met at Carquinez Middle School in Crockett and immediately bonded over their love of rock music. The boys went from talking about AC/DC and Van Halen to starting their own band, playing backyard parties, and performing at the famous 924 Gilman Street Project in Berkeley.
Before long, they were making records with a new member, drummer Tré Cool, and selling lots of them—more than 70 million to date. Backyard concerts became sold-out shows in stadiums all over the world. In 2015, the trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Through it all, Green Day have stayed true to their East Bay roots, supporting local artists, businesses, and causes, and never forgetting where they came from.
“When Green Day found 924 Gilman in its nascent stage, they found a new kind of ‘no violence, no hate’ offshoot of the punk scene,” says Corbett Redford, director of Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, a 2017 documentary that Green Day produced. “Everyone in that community played the same backyard parties and benefit shows to help members of the community or local nonprofit organizations. Everyone in that small cluster of musicians, artists, writers, and organizers influenced and supported each other. Everyone who contributed and showed up, whether they went on to greater fame or not, was an important member of the community.”
As Green Day’s 13th studio album, Father of All …, hits stores on February 7—almost exactly 30 years after the debut of their first LP—Diablo looks at the band’s remarkable success and how the guys never stopped supporting their home turf in a range of creative endeavors.
1977 At just 5 years old, Billie Joe Armstrong records the novelty single “Look for Love” at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. He had been taking music lessons at Pinole’s Fiat Music Company, which set up the recording session.
1987 The band, then named Sweet Children, plays its first show at Rod’s Hickory Pit in Vallejo. Armstrong’s mother was a waitress at the restaurant and helped arrange the gig.
1990 Green Day release their debut album, 39/Smooth, on the independent label Lookout Records, which was based in Berkeley.
1992 Kerplunk, the band’s second LP, is an indie smash, eventually selling more than a million units.
1994 The trio records its major-label debut, Dookie, at Fantasy Studios. The album is a monster hit and goes on to sell more than 10 million copies in the United States.
1995 Green Day win their first Grammy Award. (Over the years, they will nab four more.)
1998 “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” from the Nimrod LP, plays during the prelude to the final episode of Seinfeld, which nets an estimated audience of 76 million viewers.
2004 American Idiot, the band’s “punk rock opera,” is another multiplatinum smash album, ultimately winning Grammys for Best Rock Album and Record of the Year for the single “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
2005 Green Day perform a sold-out concert at the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark that sets an attendance record for the venue.
2009 The stage-musical adaptation of American Idiot premieres at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. For almost a decade, it remains the company’s biggest hit. When it moves to Broadway, it wins two Tony Awards.
2010 The band’s eighth album, 21st Century Breakdown, earns the Grammy for Best Rock Album.
2012 The group releases three LPs, Uno, Dos, and Tré, within three months.
2015 Green Day are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2017 At the Oakland Coliseum, the group plays to a crowd of more than 25,000—their biggest-ever show in the East Bay.
2020 The band’s first record in four years, Father of All …, drops on February 7. Green Day play Oracle Park with Weezer and Fall Out Boy on July 21.
Business as Unusual
Since achieving superstar status, Green Day and their close affiliates have used their creativity and social consciousness to launch these successful East Bay businesses.
Adrienne Armstrong, Billie Joe’s wife, cofounded this Rockridge boutique in 2007. Atomic Garden carries a range of products that reflect sustainability, small production, and artisan craftsmanship. atomicgardenoakland.com.
Armstrong co-owns this little music shop that caters to local musicians. The store buys, sells, and trades new and used guitars and amps. brokenguitarsoakland.com.
The Golden Bull
Along with three friends—including Jason Beebout, who was part of the 924 Gilman Street scene—Armstrong recently purchased this downtown Oakland bar. The club hosts live music most nights, with some Green Day side projects making occasional appearances. thegoldenbullbar.com.
This Green Day–founded enterprise proudly claims to be the world’s first coffee company to exclusively use fully compostable bags and single-serve cups, although other brands have followed its example. Using beans from Latin America, Oakland Coffee offers single-origin and blended roasts that are available in Safeway stores throughout Northern California as well as at Draeger’s Market in Blackhawk. oaklandcoffee.com.
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe
Dirnt is a quiet co-owner of the family diner in Emeryville, around the corner from Pixar Animation Studios. Oakland Coffee makes a special blend exclusively for the restaurant. iamrudy.com.
Four musical side projects every Green Day fan should know about.
While Green Day are still going strong after three decades, the band often morphs into new formations to try out different styles and songs—sometimes at small shows in our region.
Fans pack into tiny East Bay clubs like the Golden Bull and Albany’s Ivy Room to see Armstrong, Dirnt, and friends rip through classics by David Bowie, Tom Petty, the Ramones, and other rock legends. Search YouTube for “Coverups 40th Street Block Party” to watch one of their outdoor concerts.
Armstrong teamed with Norah Jones on this 2013 album that could not have been more disparate from Green Day’s rock songs. Foreverly saw the duo covering an Everly Brothers album; the tracks are gentle and gorgeous, and Armstrong’s vocals blend with Jones’s in haunting arrangements.
Foxboro Hot Tubs
This Green Day side project produced the 2008 garage-rock record Stop Drop and Roll!!!, which sounds like it could have been made in the ’60s, in the vein of the Kinks, the 13th Floor Elevators, or the Who. It’s named for the Jacuzzis in a Rodeo condominium complex that the guys used to sneak into at night.
Comprised of Armstrong and pals, this group recorded the hooky 2018 pop-rock LP Love Is for Losers. Check out the songs “Chasing a Ghost” and “Southern Girls,” which sound like hit singles on an alt-rock radio station from an alternate universe. The Longshot rang in 2020 with a show at the Golden Bull in Oakland, after Green Day played on a national TV broadcast from Hollywood earlier that evening.
Since the beginning, Green Day have put considerable energy and resources into philanthropic causes, both locally and internationally. They are longtime supporters of music programs in Oakland schools, as well as global organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Here are a few of the charities the band has made extensive efforts to support.
—Billie Joe Armstrong
Fueled by Love
When Green Day developed their Oakland Coffee business, they created Fueled by Love as the company’s charity arm. The organization aims to take care of coffee farmers in economically challenged areas of Central and South America. Supporting a female-led grassroots alliance, its programs have helped build a medical facility and create fresh-water infrastructure in Peru; it also provides assistance based on the needs of local farmers.
Billie Joe and Adrienne Armstrong cofounded Project Chimps—a 236-acre forested property set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia—with two others in 2014. Currently, the sanctuary is home to 79 former research chimpanzees that are cared for by 30 staff members and 200 volunteers. It is entirely privately funded and operates on donations from supporters. The Armstrongs reached out to high-profile friends including Rachael Ray, Sammy Hagar, and Pink to help raise the money to buy the property and create the sanctuary. When Green Day make a tour stop in Atlanta in August, they will give fans an option to visit the sanctuary and learn about its programs.
“We hope to expand in the near future to include additional houses and habitats. Our goal is to house all 200 chimpanzees that were part of the New Iberia Research Center’s program,” says Ali Crumpacker, executive director of Project Chimps. “While they are no longer being used for testing, nearly 130 chimpanzees are still waiting at the lab until we can create space for them.”
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland
When Armstrong was young, he regularly performed show tunes and Elvis Presley songs at seniors’ homes and at Children’s Hospital Oakland. That was the start of a lifelong relationship with the East Bay institution. Over the years, Green Day have consistently championed the hospital. A few examples: The band donated its payout from its 2002 concert at the Oakland Arena to the facility, and worked with Bay Area–bred profes-sional skateboarder Jim Thiebaud in 2013 to design a series of Green Day skateboard decks to benefit the hospital’s programs. Perhaps most significantly, their performance at the 2013 Dreamforce gala inspired Salesforce founder Marc Benioff to donate $1 million to Children’s Hospital.