Billie Joe Armstrong
Stuart Ryan continues with a look at the acoustic side of a guitarist normally associated with electric instruments - Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.
Power Punk trio Green Day first came to the fore with their smash hit Dookie album in 1994 though they had been touring and releasing harder material for years prior to that.
Interestingly though, the acoustic guitar had been a part of their arsenal even in these early days with an interesting logic behind its inclusion in their touring rig. often the band would find themselves booked to play basements and small clubs that either didn’t have the correct permits for live performances or were the target of noise complaints. While for many bands on the punk scene this would mean sets were often cancelled or short, green Day simply pulled out the acoustic guitars and carried on with an all-acoustic set – genius!
the band formed in 1986 in Berkeley, california, and their first two albums were released on the indie label lookout Records. It was with their major label debut Dookie that really propelled them into the mainstream and that album went on to sell a staggering 10 million copies. the acoustic guitar started to come to the fore via the 1997 release nimrod, an album that was designed to explore new sounds and approaches for the band. the smash hit single good Riddance (time of your life) showcased Billie Joe’s simple though melodic acoustic style perfectly and no doubt introcuced the band to a new audience. Although his influences were bands like the Ramones, husker Du and the Replacements, Bob Dylan came to be a huge influence on Armstrong and you can hear his distinctly American folk style at the fore of Armstrong’s acoustic style. Indeed, Dylan’s Bringing It All Back home album from 1965 was something Armstrong listened to repeatedly during writing sessions for what would become the follow up to nimrod, the album, Warning.
since then acoustic guitar has become more prominent on green Day’s recordings and you will even hear Armstrong add mandolin parts on some releases. over the last 15 years the acoustic guitar has even been
Music - that’s been my education. There’s not a day that goes by that I take it for granted. Billie Joe Armstrong
a primary feature on some of their biggest tracks - the simple arpeggiated figure from Wake me up When september Ends or the strumming passages from Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Although you won’t find virtuoso licks or high-tempo fingerpicking in Armstrong’s playing he is a great example of how hook-based acoustic guitar parts can be layered with power chords and riffs in order to create a huge-sounding end result. Forget chops for a minute and focus instead on clean, well-timed picking and see how tight your strumming is with the backing track!
Billie Joe with his signature black Gibson Everly’s style acoustic