As the guitarist/singer/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, IL, Corgan's first true exposure to music came from his father, Bill Corgan, Sr., who was a blues guitarist. After his parents divorced at an early age, Corgan moved from one relative to the next, 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, FL, 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 (one of the quartet's first shows was opening for Jane's Addiction). 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, who issued their debut, Gish, in 1991. A woefully underrated guitarist, Corgan's wild, Jimi Hendrix-esque playing was an integral part of the early-Pumpkins sound.
With each subsequent album (1993's classic Siamese Dream, 1995's double-album Mellon Collie), 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 additional of bassist Paz Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle), and the quintet released their debut album, Mary Star of the Sea, in January 2003. However, by September Zwan had disbanded in a cloud of bandmember angst and frustrated ego, 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 (Faber and Faber). At the same time he was working on the solo debut with collaborators Bjorn Thorsrud and Bon Harris (Nitzer Ebb). The ambitious, very personal Future Embrace appeared in June 2005. Guests on the album included drummer Chamberlin and the Cure's Robert Smith. ~ Greg Prato & Steve Bekkala