Personalities | Billy Corgan | Pumpkins’ Perfectionist | Guitar Heroes

Alternative-rock guitarist Billy Corgan (b. 1967) was born in Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after starting high school, Corgan began to learn guitar on an imitation Gibson Les Paul.

His father, a musician, suggested that Billy listen to Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix but refused to teach him to play; consequently, Corgan was self-taught. His early influences were the mainstream rock of Queen, Boston, ELO and Cheap Trick, along with heavier outfits like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Later, he discovered the alternative scene via Bauhaus, The Cure and The Smiths.

Corgan formed The Smashing Pumpkins in Chicago in 1988 with James Iha (guitar) and D’arcy Wretzky (bass). The addition of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain pumped up the band’s intensity. The Pumpkins’ debut album Gish (1991) combined hard rock and psychedelia and was recorded under difficult circumstances resulting from tensions within the band (Corgan is believed to have replaced Wretzky’s bass and Iha’s guitar parts with his own). The recording of Siamese Dream (1993) was similarly fraught, with Corgan’s control-freak tendencies again dominating the sessions, but it provided a breakthrough success for The Pumpkins. Siamese Dream was characterized by multiple layers of guitar that created a distinctive buzzing effect. ‘Soma’ incorporated Corgan’s quieter side before shifting dynamically into a wall of 40 overdubs. Other songs were reputed to contain up to 100 guitar tracks. Corgan’s squalling solos were prominent on ‘Cherub Rock’ and ‘Quiet’. Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995) was an ambitious double CD based around the loose concept of the cycle of life and death. The guitars were often tuned down a half tone as Corgan tried for a greater variety of overdubs. Its success (nine million sold) proved hard to follow and, after two more albums, The Smashing Pumpkins disbanded in 2000.

Corgan formed the short-lived Zwan, whose album Mary Star Of The Sea (2003) was uncharacteristically upbeat and poppy. His solo album, TheFutureEmbrace (2005), returned to alternative rock, but sold poorly. In 2006, The Pumpkins reformed with Corgan and Chamberlain as the only original members, releasing the album Oceania in 2012 as part of the wider Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project. Corgan’s favourite guitar is a 1957 Fender Stratocaster, although he has used a variety of instruments, including a Gibson 335, a Les Paul and an Epiphone SG.

Essential Recordings

The Smashing Pumpkins: Gish

The Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream

The Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness

Solo: TheFutureEmbrace

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