Smashing Pumpkins and The Frogs: A Brief History

Article by Arthur van Pelt

For today’s article we will put the spotlight on The Frogs, or more accurately, on the two brothers, Dennis and Jimmy Flemion, who founded the band.  Since it is a little over half a year ago that Dennis Flemion passed away at the age of 57, we thought it would be appropriate to honor the many years that Smashing Pumpkins and The Frogs joined forces.  From one of the ‘Collecting to the Extreme’ episodes we know that the Flemion brothers did additional vocals on “To Sheila” and “Behold! The Night Mare” on the Adore album, but in this article we will go deeper into their many other collaborations with Smashing Pumpkins.

The information and images below came from several sources (Matador Records, MTV, Wikipedia, Journal Times, Twitter, MySpace, TheMusic.com Australia, SPLRA, SPFC, Hipsters United and Crestfallen) and were reworked for this brief history on Smashing Pumpkins and The Frogs.

 01. The Frogs
Dennis (left) and Jimmy (right) in one of their most famous stage costumes.

Dennis and Jimmy are two brothers (Dennis is the eldest) that are best known for having founded the independent (and sometimes controversial) rock/folk band The Frogs in 1980. The Frogs, as a band, but also the individual Flemion brothers, have played an important role in the history of Smashing Pumpkins.  In 1993, Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan saw The Frogs at a small club in Madison, Wisconsin, and invited them to open for Smashing Pumpkins.  The first time The Frogs did so was at the Unicorn, Milwaukee show on July 23, 1993.  Very soon, The Frogs were opening for bands like Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Urge Overkill, and other who were fans of the group, to mixed reactions.  For example, on Hipsters United, November 28, 2008, a commenter named Davin explained: “The Frogs got booed off the stage the last time I saw them play with Smashing Pumpkins @ Aragon.”  Nevertheless, The Frogs shared the stage with Smashing Pumpkins on numerous occasions in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2007 and 2008.

As Gil Kaufman (MTV.com) remembered The Frogs during the then ‘final’ Smashing Pumpkins concert in 2000: “Corgan brought out longtime friends Jimmy and Dennis Flemion of bizarro Milwaukee rock duo the Frogs for a pair of songs early in the show.  Wearing his signature spangly green bat wings, lanky band leader Jimmy Flemion warbled his way through a country-ish reading of the ballad “Blissed and Gone” as Corgan swayed, smiled and acted uncharacteristically goofy, swinging his arms and mugging for the crowd. “I had myself / I had my band,” the head Pumpkin mooned, hands on hips, rolling his eyes like a petulant child.

And during the 2001 – 2005 period when Smashing Pumpkins was not around as a band, The Frogs was the band Zwan (which featured Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin) invited to enliven their live shows.  We know The Frogs opened for Zwan at the Double Door, Chicago show on April 12, 2002, and possibly others. 

After meeting Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain in 1993, The Frogs wrote two songs about Kurt (“Lord Grunge” being one of them), and also made him a videotape called Toy Porno. The VHS of Toy Porno featured select live performances and stop-motion animations with a number of painted action figures.  The action figures, and other dolls, were used as sexually promiscuous characters in various short sketches.  The tape became constant viewing material on Nirvana’s tour bus.  The videotape has since been made available to fans and has become a cult classic.

02. The Frogs with Kurt Cobain

The Frogs with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

In the summer of 1994, the Frogs played the second stage at Lollapalooza, with Billy Corgan joining them at every stop, shredding away on lead guitar for their encore of “I Only Play 4 Money” and “Lord Grunge”.  Corgan continued to support and promote The Frogs by producing the short film Meet the Frogs which he included on Smashing Pumpkins’ 1994 Vieuphoria video compilation. The short film brought the group further recognition, but it also confused Smashing Pumpkins fans who didn’t know whether they should take the Frogs seriously as a band.

With their recordings for the Matador, Homestead, Four Alarm and Scratchie labels, but most importantly through their exhaustive Made Up Songs cassettes (and later compact discs), Dennis and Jimmy Flemion were, with their band The Frogs, one of the most crucial, if not one of the strangest American bands of the last quarter century.  Though best known (but not universally beloved) for the explicit subject matters found on It’s Only Right & Natural, as well as for their associations with a number of celebrity patrons, the Frogs’ comedic gifts have occasionally (and most probably unfairly) overshadowed their musical depth.  Just as It’s Only Right & Natural was a huge conceptual departure from their self-issued debut The Frogs, subsequent works like 1997′s grunge-baiting Star Job were a world away from the Do-It-Yourself folk affectations of It’s Only Right & Natural.

03. JF and BC working on Star Job

Jimmy Flemion and Billy Corgan working on The Frogs’ Star Job EP in 1994

In 1994, The Frogs signed to a new label, Matador Records, who released two Frogs singles to begin with. They also recorded the EP Star Job, produced by Billy Corgan (who used the pseudonym Johnny Goat); however, the album was not released at that time.  From August 1996 to February 1997, Dennis Flemion replaced Smashing Pumpkins’ recently-deceased keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin for the Infinite Sadness Tour. During each night’s encore, Jimmy Flemion performed “1979” (which was influenced by an unreleased Frogs song, “Pleasure”) with Smashing Pumpkins, as well as selecting audience members to dance on stage.  The Flemion brothers also appeared on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight single for the song “Medellia of the Gray Skies”, and they performed, as previously mentions, backing vocals on some songs of the 1998 album Adore.

More recent appearances where Smashing Pumpkins and (one of) the Flemion brothers or The Frogs as a band played together: on November 13, 2007, Jimmy Flemion performed with Smashing Pumpkins at The Backyard in Austin, Texas.  The Frogs also opened for Smashing Pumpkins on December 7, 2008, in Chicago during the band’s ‘Celebrating 20 Years Of Sadness’ tour.

04. The Frogs artwork

Artwork for several musical releases of The Frogs

On July 7, 2012, tragedy hit the Flemion family.  While out on a boat with family and friends, Dennis Flemion went for a swim and did not resurface.  On July 9th it was publicly announced that “Dennis Flemion, one half of the Milwaukee duo known as The Frogs, was identified earlier today as the missing swimmer from a Saturday afternoon disappearance on Racine, WI’s Wind Lake.”  The body of Dennis Flemion was recovered from the water on the evening of July 10.  Meanwhile, Billy Corgan took to his Twitter.com page after hearing the news and wrote, “I’m devastated by the loss of my friend Dennis Flemion. Words can’t explain the sorrow.  A tragic loss.  Please pray for his family.”  Funeral services were held on July 14th, 2012, and attended by Billy Corgan, who performed a new song called “25 Surprise”, which he wrote as a personal tribute to Dennis Flemion.

05. Dennis Flemion tweet BC

Billy Corgan Tweet from  July 10, 2012, when he heard about the untimely death of Dennis Flemion.

At Matador Records, Dennis Flemion was remembered by a blogger called Gerard, with the following words.

“There’s a couple of new Frogs albums that came out last week on iTunes; ‘Squirrel Bunny Juniper Deluxe’ and ‘Count Yer Blessingz’. The Dennis that we saw onstage would’ve recognized this tragic event as a huge opportunity to plug some new recordings. Sans wig, drum sticks, etc. he might’ve preferred I’d not even mention it. The fantastic output and fleeting moments of near-fame aside, I hope he’s remembered as a really sweet guy first, and a hugely talented artist second. Our thoughts go out to Jimmy, the rest of the Flemion family, their friends and everyone who was lucky enough to know Dennis.  Simply saying, “he’ll be missed” doesn’t come close to covering it.”

To this date it remains unclear if and how The Frogs, as a band, will continue on after the sudden and unfortunate passing of Dennis Flemion. So far, the two albums mentioned, Count Yer Blessingz and Squirrel Bunny Jupiter Deluxe that were released shortly before Dennis passed away, remain the latest musical output from The Frogs.  And as far as we know, no public appearances by Jimmy Flemion with Smashing Pumpkins have been noted since July 16, 2012, when Billy Corgan played “The Celestials” solo with an acoustic guitar at Dennis and Janice Flemion’s home, following the funeral.

A great article on The Frogs called ‘The Niles Notes: I’m Sad Because the Goat Just Died: Why I Love (And Will Miss) The Frogs, the World’s Greatest Band’ was written for L’etoile Magazine by blogger Niles Schwartz. It can still be found here.

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