The Smashing Pumpkins were formed in/around 1988 in Chicago, Illinois. The group's leader, then, now, and forever, was son-of-a-blues-guitarist Billy Corgan. He returned to Chicago after working with a band called The Marked in Florida.
Billy met, through a mutual friend, guitarist James Iha. James, at the time, was still in art school and actually didn't know how to play guitar very well, either. Nonetheless, they started working together, and began writing songs under the name of The Smashing Pumpkins.
After going to a club one night in downtown Chicago, Billy met, on the street, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and invited her to play with the band. And thus was formed the core of the group.
The trio performed several times using a drum machine, because, alas, they didn't have a drummer. Eventually, however, fan Jimmy Chamberlin joined the group. Jimmy had worked for many years as a professional jazz drummer, and has a very expessive and powerful style.
Billy and the gang began performing all around the Chicago area, opening up for groups such as Jane's Addiction, while at the same time recording under the Sub Pop and Caroline record labels. Eventually, in 1991, their first album Gish was released on Caroline Records. The album made a splash in the then-burgeoning college radio market, driven by its singles I am One and Siva.
Despite the splash that the album made in 1991, it was out-splashed by another small album that came out a month after Gish.... Nirvana's Nevermind.
The band felt slighted, overwhelmed by the competition from Kurt Cobain and his crew. Undaunted, however, they went into the studio, armed with veteran producer Butch Vig (who, incidentally, was the producer of Nevermind, and is now the drummer for the band Garbage), and a new contract with Virgin Records, and produced their 1993 breakthrough record, Siamese Dream.
Siamese Dream, with its heavy guitars and melancholy lyrics, was an instant smash. The Pumpkins headlined the Lollapalooza tour and gained an even larger fan base. The band had hits with the songs Disarm and Today, and gained notoriety for Corgan's perfectionist studio techniques. They also released an album of b-sides, Pisces Iscariot, in late 1994.
After a worldwide arena tour, the band returned to the studio and began working on their epic double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, produced by noted UK producer Flood. This 1995 release became one of the highest-selling double albums in history. It had hits with the songs Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Tonight, Tonight, and Zero.
During the tour for Mellon Collie, however, tragedy struck. Tour keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose, while shooting up with the thought-to-be-clean Jimmy Chamberlin. Corgan, not wishing to condone this sort of behaviour, fired Chamberlin and hired drummer Matt Walker, from the then-industrial band Filter to play the rest of the tour with them.
In 1997, the band veered away from the rock genre and released their quiet, contemplative, and semi-electronic album Adore, to mixed reviews and poor sales. This was their only album released without Chamberlin, and his presence is strongly felt. Gone are the pounding drums and loud guitars, which were replaced by keyboards and acoustic guitars. After a small club tour, Corgan and the band took a break.
Guitarist James Iha, in the meanwhile, relased a solo album, 1998's Let it Come Down, which showed his talents as a singer and acoustic songwriter. Corgan, all the while, had been working on soundtracks and producing the 1998 Hole album, Celebrity Skin.
In 1999, Corgan re-hired drummer Chamberlin and returned to the studio. Upon completion of recording, bassist D'Arcy left the band, wanting to pursue an acting career. Corgan picked up ex-Hole bassist Melissa auf der Maur and released Machina: The Machines of God in 2000, which found the band returning to their harder rock roots. The album has gained mild critical acclaim, although it seems that their genre of alternative rock has passed its time in the spotlight.