Pumpkins of the Past – Jimmy Chamberlin

Article by Shaharaine P. Abdullah

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(D’arcy Wretzky, James Iha, Billy Corgan & Jimmy Chamberlin)

In a culture that rewards sentimentalism, most bands with The Smashing Pumpkins’ illustrious history would be content to churn out old hits, but the choice to remain relevant in the music industry without sacrificing artistry is a noble undertaking continually pursued by the Pumpkins with Billy Corgan at the helm.

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(Melissa Auf der Maur, James Iha, Billy Corgan & Jimmy Chamberlin)

While The Smashing Pumpkins’ intermittent line-ups over the years have divided fans and critics alike (which is the better album, the better guitarist/bassist/drummer, etc.), no one can deny the impact of the Pumpkins’ sprawling discography on the musical landscape over the years.

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(Nicole Fiorentino, Jeff Schroeder, Billy Corgan & Mike Byrne)

Obviously, Corgan’s philosophies, both personal and musical, have largely influenced the band’s distinct sound and propelled its purpose, but other musicians were also responsible in molding The Smashing Pumpkins into the formidable band it is at present.

In this 7-part article, we will highlight these eclectic artists who all, at one point, played an integral part in The Smashing Pumpkins’ still unfolding story. We will put the spotlights on Lisa Harriton, Matt Walker, Ginger Pooley, D’arcy Wretzky, James Iha, Melissa Auf Der Maur, and of course:

Jimmy Chamberlin (birthdate: June 10, 1964)

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James Joseph “Jimmy” Chamberlin is a songwriter, producer and best known as the first, and so far longest serving, drummer for The Smashing Pumpkins.

Pre-Pumpkins

Born in a brood of 6 children in Joilet, Illinois, Jimmy was raised in a musical family; his father played clarinet and his older brother Paul played drums in a jazz band.  At the age of 8, Jimmy started playing the drums and got introduced to a lot of drumming styles and techniques, including jazz, big-band, Brazilian and Latin rhythms.

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“I got all my technical education when I was younger, going through school and then when I was in college. My brother, Paul, has been a drummer since before I was born, and by the time I was eight years old, I had a record collection that consisted of Ian Paice, Cozy Powell and a lot of other great drummers. I grew up listening to the best of the best drummers, whether it was rock, big band or jazz drummers. I appreciated all of it because I couldn’t stand listening to just one style of music as much as I couldn’t stand playing just one style. I did have the rock ethic, though – I definitely wanted the chicks and the fast cars – but not necessarily the long hair and the twenty-piece drum kit.

When I was nine, I started taking lessons from Charlie Adams, who plays drums for Yanni now. He’s an excellent player who’s very much into rudimental playing and I went through a few technique books with him. I took lessons from him for five years, so that gave me a great foundation, plus I played four hours a day on my own at home, listened to my brother, and went to shows. I used to come home from school at 3:00 and sometimes play until 9:00.

Then I took lessons for three years from a teacher who was Charlie’s protégé and who was really into the big-band thing. That was really good for me in the way of technique. And since my dad was a clarinet player, I already had a good idea of what it took to move a jazz song.” – Jimmy Chamberlin on his jazz roots.

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Under the tutelage of Charlie Adams, drummer for the jazz band Yanni, his protégé, and a timpanist named Hugh Wilson, Jimmy became an adept drummer, mostly adopting a jazz-styled technique that largely influenced his stint with the Pumpkins.

 I don’t see jazz as a swing feel or a bebop feel. I see it more as an emotional representation of somebody through music. And that’s what the Pumpkins are to me. I can pretty much do whatever I want in this band and play to the utmost of my ability. And to me, this is the most jazzy situation I’ve ever been in.

The most obviously jazz-influenced things to come out in my drumming are the dynamics and how they really shape the songs. The songs will be balls-out, and just drop to nothing, and I’ll use things like ghost notes and left-handed ruffs, which are representative of a lot of jazz I listen to.”- Jimmy Chamberlin on his drumming technique/style.

Jimmy applied the techniques he mastered in a garage group called the Warrior Band when he was just15 years old.

I was pretty much good enough at that time to smoke all the other drummers in my area, because I came from a pretty small town. But I didn’t really play in every high school band; I played with this garage group called the Warrior Band, which played Pat Travers-type music and they were all about twenty-five and pretty good musicians. There I was, fifteen years old, playing Friday and Saturday nights, getting sloshed and having to go back to school on Monday. At sixteen, I had a girlfriend who was twenty-three! But I was making $400 a week doing these gigs, and I was totally convinced at that point that music was something I was going to do for the rest of my life.

 My dad, being a musician, was supportive of the time I put into practicing and getting better. But he had six mouths to feed and had to work at a railroad for steady income. So that hindered any career he might have had and it made him think more practically about any musical career I might have wanted. He started stressing education a lot more and I ended up going to Northern Illinois University for about a year. I screwed around a lot, but it was good for me because I got to read some interesting charts and keep up my reading ability. I’ve been reading all my life, and I can still sight-read fairly well.” – Jimmy Chamberlin on his formative years.

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At 17, he earned money by playing in a wedding band, then eventually moved to a polka band called Eddie Carossa’s, which had played every Saturday on the local TV show for a stint. Jimmy also played in a local radio show every Sunday and got into a band called Razor’s Edge, which eventually paved the way for him to get into a show band called J.P. & the Cats. After getting more than his fill of playing music, Jimmy quit the band and got a job as a carpenter while working on some stuff in the studio on the side with a guy named Dave Zukowski.

 “I just got totally burned out. I got sick of the road and there was very little stability in my life. Theoretically, I could have played with J.P. for ten years and made a living at it. But I wasn’t going to get rich and I wasn’t going to get any happier in J.P. than I already was. I was getting bored and just wanted to get away from the live gigs.

So I started working in studio stuff with a guy named Dave Zukowski in Joliet and I got a job as a carpenter, which I had done off and on over the years. I really like to build things; it’s my second passion. I was building custom houses with my brother-in-law, and the money was excellent and the hours were a lot more appealing than anything I had on the road with J.P. I was still playing – jamming with a lot of blues bands in town and working with Dave on his original songs. The beauty was that there was no road stress involved – just coming home from work, showering, heading over to Dave’s and having a couple of beers and jamming.

Dave had already had a record out, so there was some light at the end of the tunnel for some success. I was still open to having a life in music. But at that point, if something didn’t ever come along, I wasn’t going to be a frustrated gutter bum. I was happy with my playing and financial success in terms of music wasn’t important to me, mainly because I was pulling in tons of cash in construction.” – Jimmy Chamberlin on his life before getting into The Smashing Pumpkins.

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Pumpkins Period

Despite making a profitable living as a carpenter and enjoying a laidback pace after years of erratic schedules brought by playing live gigs, Jimmy couldn’t completely remove music from his life. It seemed fate had plans for the drummer, who recalls the details of how he first crossed paths with the Pumpkins.

Dave worked at a record store at the time and a friend of Billy [Corgan] came in and said Billy was looking for a drummer for one show at the Metro. Dave told him his drummer, who was me, could go in and kick ass for him. So I called Billy and he told me about the situation, that he had all these original songs and was gonna get signed. And I said, “Yeah, right,” figuring I’d do this one gig and we’d talk more later.

So I went out and saw the band – Billy, [guitarist] James [Iha], and D’arcy – playing at Avalon with a drum machine. Man, did they sound horrible! They were atrocious. But the thing I noticed was that not only were the song structures good, but Billy’s voice had a lot of drive to it, like he was dying to succeed. So I ended up driving from work every Wednesday to rehearse with them. We played that show at the The Metro and a lot of people were impressed, saying we sounded different from everybody else out there.

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I kept on working construction but the band slowly became a more and more important part of my life too, but the thing at that point was that I finally had my own apartment, a really nice sports car and a good job. I was making all this cash, but I still wasn’t feeling good, like something was missing. I figured I had to do something with this band or I’d never forgive myself.

So I quit my job and moved up to Chicago. When my money ran out, I sold my car. I worked at a bike shop for a while and lived with this girl, but I was basically in the gutter for three years just so I could concentrate on the band. I went from eating steak every night and driving around in my car to eating hot dogs and beans and trying to get enough money for smokes. But it really didn’t seem weird because everybody in the band had the same drive and determination.” – Jimmy Chamberlin, on his early years with The Smashing Pumpkins

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 The rest is Pumpkins history. Jimmy went on to become one of rock’s most prolific drummers, amplified through the years during his tenure with the band. He and Billy Corgan reportedly played the majority of Gish and Siamese Dream, which turned out to be two of the band’s most seminal and defining albums.

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While fans and critics alike praised Jimmy’s drumming prowess, most were unaware of his downward spiral behind the scenes due to an escalating drug problem. It was said that he would often disappear for days at a time during the recording of Siamese Dream and go on drug binges. In the middle of their promotional tour for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Jimmy’s father passed away and his struggle with substance abuse grew worse. On the night of July 11, 1996 at Regency Hotel in Manhattan, Jimmy and the Pumpkins’ touring keyboardist at the time, Jonathan Melvoin, had a drinking and heroin session that led to the latter’s overdose and sudden death. The tragic incident prompted the rest of the band to fire Jimmy and replace him with Matt Walker from Filter and Melvoin with Jimmy Flemion of The Frogs for the remainder of the tour. According to an interview, D’arcy Wretzky revealed that, despite their deep regret, they felt letting Jimmy go was the only way for the band to move on and for Jimmy to get proper help and focus on getting clean.

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For his part, Jimmy was arrested and charged with heroin possession. He pleaded not guilty to the charge and subsequently underwent drug rehabilitation. On October 8, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, avoiding over a year in jail.  In 1998, Jimmy was reinstated as the Pumpkins’ drummer after the band had recorded and released Adore – ironically, it was then bassist D’arcy’s turn to leave the Pumpkins, this time for good. The band was able to release their concept album Machina/The Machines of God and it’s follow-up Machina II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music for free via the Internet before disbanding in 2000. During this period, Jimmy went on to collaborate on another musical project with Billy Corgan, the alternative rock group Zwan that was made up of members of The Smashing Pumpkins, Slint, Tortoise, Chavez and A Perfect Circle. Zwan was only able to release one album, “Mary Star of the Sea,” before acrimoniously disbanding in 2003. In 2004, Jimmy formed his next project called the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex and released its first studio album “Life Begins Again,” which Corgan appeared on. On June 21, 2005, Corgan announced his plan to revive the Pumpkins in a full-page advertisement in the Chicago Tribune, which Jimmy responded to and accepted in February 2, 2006. The Pumpkins eventually reformed without James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky, releasing their 7th album Zeitgeist in 2007. In 2009, Jimmy left the band, stating on his blog:

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“By now you have heard the news of my departure from the Smashing Pumpkins. I will say, without going into any unnecessary details that this represents a positive move forward for me. I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don’t fully possess. I won’t pretend I’m into something I’m not. I won’t do it to myself, you the fan, or my former partner. I can’t just, “Cash the check” so to speak. Music is my life. It is sacred. It deserves the highest commitment at every level and the Pumpkins are certainly no different. I’m sorry but it really IS that simple. There is no drama, bad blood, or anything else but a full commitment to music. My best goes out to Billy and I’m glad he has chosen to continue under the name. It is his right. I will continue to make music with the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex as well as pursuing other musical interests. I feel that I have a long way to go and a lot to give. Thanks to everyone for your kind words and support through all of this. I am constantly humbled by all of you! It is an honor and a privilege to play music for a living and I don’t take it for granted not even for a second. Stay tuned”Jimmy Chamberlin

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Post-Pumpkins

Jimmy has been holding drum clinics since departing the Pumpkins in 2009; in the middle of one of these, he announced that his next project would be a band called This, aprogressive, symphonic pop” outfit consisting of multi-instrumentalists Mike Reina and guitarist Anthony Pirog. In 2010, they released a 6-track record entitled “Great Civilizations” made available for download in digital format only on iTunes and Amazon, which was subsequently removed after initial confusion over the band’s name. In December 2010, they re-appeared with a different name, Skysaw. On June 21, 2011, Skysaw released the extended 10-song version of “Great Civilizations” under Dangerbird Records and did a series of shows in support of the album with their label mate Minus The Bear. On August 23, 2012, Jimmy announced to the attendees of his drum clinic in Chicago that he had left Skysaw.

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Trivia

– has 2 children with wife Lori Chamberlin: a daughter named Audrey (born December 2002) and a son named Lucas, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Myositis, a rare and debilitating auto-immune disease. In September 2010, Jimmy (in cooperation with Cure JM Foundation) won a bid of $250,000 (with the help of votes from a poll contest held online) as grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project to fund further research about this disease. In August 2011, Jimmy and his wife Lori participated in the Chicago Half Marathon & 5K to further help the foundation.

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(Lucas Chamberlin, Jimmy’s son)

“A sincere “THANK YOU” to the fantastic brotherhood of drummers and musicians for helping us fund JDM research! It is an honor to be part of such a strong community and I am touched to the bottom of my heart with the response that we received from all of you! God Bless all of you!!!!!!!! ”Jimmy Chamberlin (from Yamaha Drums’ Official Facebook Page, September 2, 2010)

*for more information on Juvenile Myositis and how you can help, please visit: http://www.curejm.org

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Chamberlin
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0150250/
http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/6203/page28.html&date=2009-10-25+07:57:16
http://landslide.2007.org/omnipedia/tragedy.htm
http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/jamesandlori-chamberlin/chicagohalfmarathon5k

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6 responses to “Pumpkins of the Past – Jimmy Chamberlin

  1. Great article. I thought I know a lot about the Smashing Pumpkins, but again you prove me wrong. Hats off to you Sha! Can’t wait to read the rest of this series. 🙂

  2. Great article, just a side note, I’m pretty sure it was Dennis Flemion who filled in on keyboards on the MCIS tour.

  3. Nice piece! While I enjoyed the new Pumpkin’s album, it just doesn’t feel the same without Jimmy’s unique and skilled drum approach. He just had such an amazing and unique style that really helped set them apart (in addition to Corgan’s songwriting and guitar work).

    I’m currently running a poll on best alt-rock drummers with Jimmy on the ballot! Feel free to vote here:

    http://www.smellslikeinfinitesadness.com/vote-for-best-alternative-rock-drummers/

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