Best known as the guitarist, singer, and head songwriter for the Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan was one of alt-rock's leaders and focal points for much of the '90s. Born on March 17, 1967, in Elk Grove, Illinois, Corgan's first true exposure to music came from his father, Bill Corgan, Sr., who was a blues guitarist. After his parents divorced, Corgan moved from one relative to the next as a child, and by age 14 he began playing guitar himself (citing such hard rock bands as Cheap Trick and Van Halen as important early influences). In 1985 Corgan formed his first real band, a goth metal group called the Marked. After gigging around the Chicago area, the Marked soon relocated from Illinois to St. Petersburg, Florida in pursuit of greener musical pastures. However, the change of scenery did little to improve the group's fortunes, and so the Marked disbanded and Corgan moved back north, into his father's house in Chicago.
Working at a record store, Corgan began putting the pieces together for his next band, which would be the Smashing Pumpkins. He befriended guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy, and the three started to play in bars and clubs around Chicago with a drum machine in place of a real drummer. But from the advice of a friend, Corgan checked out local jazz fusion drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who immediately landed the gig with his powerful, John Bonham-esque drumming style. Like the Marked, the Pumpkins merged a dark alternative sound with metal, but also gave it a psychedelic and experimental twist. Several independent singles led to a deal with Caroline Records, which issued their debut, Gish, in 1991. At the fore was Corgan's wild, Jimi Hendrix-esque playing, an integral part of the early Pumpkins sound.
With each subsequent album (1993's quadruple-platinum classic Siamese Dream, 1995's ten-times platinum double-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), the Pumpkins grew in popularity, until they were one of rock's top dogs by the mid- to late '90s. A very proficient songwriter, Corgan contributed Pumpkins songs to movie soundtracks (Singles, Lost Highway, Batman & Robin), supplied the musical score for such movies as Stigmata and Ransom, and produced albums for such other artists as Ric Ocasek, Hole, and Catherine. After the Pumpkins split in 2000, many assumed Corgan would automatically pursue a solo career, but shortly after playing several shows with New Order as a sideman/guitarist in the summer of 2001, Corgan announced his next project would be a new band.
Called Zwan, the group featured Corgan joined by former bandmate Chamberlin on drums, as well as Matt Sweeney (from Chavez) on guitar and David Pajo (Papa M, Slint) on bass. Pajo soon moved over to guitar with the addition of bassist Paz Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle), and the quintet released its debut album, Mary Star of the Sea, in January 2003. However, by September Zwan had disbanded in a cloud of bandmember angst and frustrated egos, and Corgan announced that he would finally take the plunge as a solo artist. The following year found him popping up at Chicago area spoken word nights, and in October 2004 he issued the poetry collection Blinking with Fists. At the same time he was working on the solo debut with collaborators Bjorn Thorsrud and Bon Harris (Nitzer Ebb). The ambitious, very personal The Future Embrace appeared in June 2005. Guests on the album included drummer Chamberlin and the Cure's Robert Smith.
The following year, Corgan recruited Chamberlin for a Pumpkins reunion that also added bassist Ginger Pooley and guitarist Jeff Schroeder to the fold. The newly formed quartet issued Zeitgeist in 2007. The album peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 and was followed by two years of touring in support of the record. Although Chamberlin bowed back out of the group in 2009, Corgan continued recording under the Pumpkins moniker. In addition to starting the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, the revamped Pumpkins lineup issued the band's eighth full-length, Oceania, in 2012. Another Pumpkins album, Monuments to an Elegy, arrived at the end of 2014. In 2016, Corgan returned focus to his solo work, entering the studio and beginning work on Ogilala. The first single from the project, "Aeronaut," arrived in the summer of 2017. ~ Greg Prato & Steve Bekkala