Jimmy Kay from Canada’s The Metal Voice spoke to former singer of the Headpins’ Darby Mills. In the chat she spoke about the her time in the Headpins; being excluded from performing today and recalled tour stories of opening for bands such as Kiss, Whitesnake and ZZ Top.
When did you first join the Headpins
“I just graduated from high school, I had moved to Calgary, Alberta and spent the better part of a year auditioning and doing the steady Loop of cover bands while I was there. I joined Steelback (Band) and within a year I got a call from Brian ‘Too Loud’ MacLeod (Chilliwack) saying that they were replacing their singer and would I join the band. I was 20 years old when that happened, I’m 63 now.”
How much of the first album ‘Turn it Loud’ was written prior to you joining
“The song ‘People’ was already done I don’t think anything else was written. I co-wrote ‘Don’t it make you feel like dancing’ with Brian (MacLeod). We basically wrote ‘Turn it loud’ (Album) in the studio. That all came together really fast because the Headpins was still supposed to be a side project for Brian (MacLeod) and Ab Bryant who were in Chilliwack (at the time) but because Mushroom records (where Heart had recorded ‘Dreamboat Annie’) Shelly Siegel had died one night unexpectedly, the record company in the studio was in turmoil. Everything came to a Hiatus or a stop and that’s why the Headpins started to play bars. They (Brian and Ab) did that for about six or seven months while Chilliwack was getting a new contract through Solid Gold Records. And when they came to get Chilliwack back in the studio and get all that figured out uh Steve Propas and Neil Dixon who were the heads of Solid Gold Records came out one night to see this funny band called The Headpins that Brian had put together in the bar. A week later I was the only one to sign the Solid Gold Records contract for that album ‘Turn it Loud’ because they already had Brian and Ab signed for Chilliwack already, so I was the sole proprietor of Turn It Loud. “
Tell me more about your writing on the first album?
“I wrote a little bit but Brian had a publishing deal and he needed to write songs and so he’d throw me a bone every once in a while and let me do some writing. It is something that I learned later on when the band tried to reform after we’d broken up. Four years later we did a reunion tour with Brian and Ab and an American label wanted to jump on and they wanted to sign us again. And by that time I’d been in the business for six or seven maybe eight years and I realized that, then how you made money was being a writer so I um I said I’ll come back I’ll sign up again but I want the ability or at least the opportunity to participate in 50% of whatever goes on the album. Not that I would get 50% but at least the ability to contribute and that was one of the main reasons why I didn’t reform with the Headpins in 1998 because I was told absolutely not.”
Did you own the trademark name to Headpins
“No I did not, no it was Brian’s name (trademark Headpins). It was Brian’s band, it was Brian’s idea, it was Brian’s everything at the time. I was 20 years old and along for the ride. Little did I know that I would also be the Fall Guy when it all fell apart and that the debt (500K) would fall on me to be paid back even after being fired.”
Tell me about touring the first album
“We ended up doing the ‘Lock up your son’s tour’ 82 (Toronto and Headpins ) without Brian and Ab and then we got on the Kiss tour without Brian and Ab and we were just knocking it out of the park. Then Brian and Ab came out to the Memorial Arena in Vancouver and they saw that the crowd was just going wild and it was right after that that they left Chilliwack and reformed or rejoined the Headpins full time. “
Tell me about the making of the iconic video ‘Do it make you feel like dancing’
“Well that was Doug and Doug from Doug in the Slugs he was doing a lot of video work at the time and also managed by the same manager that the Headpins had at the time. He got called up I’m assuming by our manager and said why don’t you do this video for the Headpins and so that was his concept. Doug came up with it. Brian and Ab were still secretly part of the band; they weren’t in the video at that point either. The album (Turn it loud) went double Platinum at the time which was 1982.”
Tell me about the Headpins opening for Kiss on their Creature of the night tour “I think it was six shows in total (with Kiss) and it was incredible. I was seeing Gene and Paul without their makeup on. When I was in high school the guys that I hung with that were in bands were Kiss fanatics. I never quite understood the Kiss thing until I found out I was going to go on tour with them and there I was sitting having dinner every night across the table from Gene Simmons without his makeup on. It was quite an experience and I left enough of an impression on Gene. A year or two later Kiss was on tour in Europe with Helix and Gene went up to Brian Vollmer and said hey you know that chick from the Headpins? Do you know her? What’s she all about? So I tell that story with great passion because you know to leave an impression on somebody like Gene um that’s an accomplishment, uh that’s a feather in my cap.”
Did you interact Eric Carr or with Vinnie Vincent the guitarist for Kiss at the time?
“They were not overly social but for Vinnie that was his first tour and he was having a bit of a time. I think we were in either Montreal or Quebec City and we got there for our sound check which would have been directly after Kiss. Gene was on stage with Vinnie and (Gene) he’s like you walk up on stage (To Vinnie) and you stand there (growl) yeah give them a growl walk up there and then turn around and walk back and I’m like wow okay stage presence 101. So that night people who were there might remember it was the tour where they had the big tank, with the risers on the side that looked like the tracks of a tank and then the drum Riser rotated with the big barrel out front. Well he (Vinnie) jumped off one of the tracks and of course he’s wearing platforms and of course he Twitches (falls) and boom into the barrel. And I’m like, oh my God because I’d never seen a pro have an accident like that. I was like that poor guy especially after getting stage presence 101 that afternoon from Gene right but it was like okay you know I guess you can go up and make mistakes we all do it.”
Did you receive royalties from the first album?
“The short answer is I still get some money from it yeah I mean am I paying my mortgage with it? No.”
You opened for Whitesnake in Europe?
“Yeah we did in Europe, we went over and toured with Whitesnake. We did a month and a half I think with Whitesnake and played the Hammersmith Odeon. Meeting the Whitesnake guys was the thrill of a lifetime even bigger than a Kiss, Cozy Powell, David Coverdale, John Lord, John Sykes and Neil Murray. The shows were sold out every night we were playing the big stadiums.”
Tell me about ZZ Top Tour where the band was throw off for doing an encore “1985 was the Afterburner tour and yeah the crowd was going just freaking wild after we played which we were only doing like a 35 minute set that’s all they would give us and so we were missing tons of the songs that people were used to hearing us play. We’d leave the stage and those lights would go on immediately and the crowd would just go wild and it was better than any encore in my opinion because they were stomping on the ground. I remember thinking we’re stars. So here we are in Calgary, Alberta (arena) where the Headpins went gold alone on ‘Turn it loud’. We do our 35 minute set and as we’re leaving the stage, normally the house lights would go on (and no encore) but they didn’t go on (House lights) so we’re walking down the stairs and we turn our back and look at everybody (audience), they had lighters up, it was lit up. They’re giving us an encore. There was much appreciation for us, so we get up and do our encore. We leave the stage ,crowds going wild, we get into the dressing room and we hear this slam of the dressing room door and it’s like what’s going on? Our road managers there and he’s like we screwed up and it’s like what do you mean? The reason why the house lights didn’t go on is because the intercom went down and they couldn’t get the house guys to bring up the house lights so we’ve put the show over by five minutes. It’s a union gig and now ZZ Top is going to have to pay whatever the price is for having gone over what their allotted time is. Of course they couldn’t take a five minute song out of their set but it was their show so I’ll stop but anyway so uh he said we just lost the American tour.”
How did you get fired from the Headpins soon after? “I’m a pretty strong personality and I will only take abuse so long or I only watch someone else being abused so long before I’ll stand up and say something, granted I was not perfect. I didn’t know everything that everyone else knew but I had an opinion and at certain points I would express it even though nobody wanted to hear it. So I think at that point I had just expressed my opinion enough that Brian (MacLeod) had just decided this is his project he’s not going to take any flack from some woman uh telling him how his project should go. There are some specifics that I won’t go into because you know quite honestly I don’t think it makes Brian look good so I’ll stay there.”
Tell me about almost being the singer of the band Blue Murder with Carmine Appice and John Sykes ” Blue Murder was recording at Little Mountain (Vancouver) and Carmine (Appice) was the drummer and he would come out and see my side projects. I was already out of the Headpins by that time and working on numerous side projects. We would play Club Soda in downtown Vancouver and he (Carmine) came in on more than one occasion. He called up and said you need to come down and you need to sing the Blue Murder stuff. Then the next time I saw him he’s like yeah John Sykes said no way he doesn’t want a woman in the band because they’ll get all the credit and I’m like oh come on, like seriously? Had it been up to Carmine I’d have had the job according to what he was saying but John was saying I was not going to have a female in the band. They had a male singer in there tracking with them they weren’t sure if they were going to hire him and then they ended up with John doing all the vocals for that album.”
Tell me about you being excluded from performing
“This could possibly get really really messy in the future, it’s been years now since I was part of the Headpins. I was a possession, I was a property and it was just so frustrating I couldn’t work in that environment anymore. Here I am going out on the road working with an individual who had taken over the identity of the Headpins and every decision that the Headpins were made for and it didn’t coincide with what I saw in the future. They were okay just being what they were. I had the experience, I had the knowledge but I was being told I didn’t know anything. I didn’t have an opinion and I was just tired of it and realized that if I was gonna do original songs, if I was going to collaborate, if I was going to try to be more of an artist than someone writing a coattail from 45 years ago I had to sever ties. I had to do it because my ability to do it within the Headpins was non-existent. So I left and it created a situation that is very unfriendly and I’m not going to name names. Unfortunately I’m butt heading against this individual who in the past 25 years of not only booking the Headpins (current version) but the other acts that he’s brought into his fold. He’s developed a lot of clout and the ability to say to a festival you want my bands or not and unfortunately as you saw it’s even gone to interviews now. You know you can’t interview her. I’ve been fighting the boogeyman my whole career, 45 years. I’m just gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other. I hate the fact that I’m having to say these things publicly that we can’t solve them behind the scenes but it’s right now costing me greatly in acquiring work. “
Are you workings on any projects now?
“I’ve got a a new project that’s not officially set or anything it’s called ‘True story’ and it’s going to take a completely different run at the entertainment industry. In other words if I have been crippled from playing the shows that I’ve done for 40 years uh rather than Taking My Ball and go home I’m changing balls. I’ve got this other project that’s in the planning stages right now and have this UK label that’s working with me and this new song that I can’t wait to put out. I got things going on and I’m happy about them and I’m proud of the work that we’re putting out .”
Have you been working on anything else outside of music?
“I make jewelry, I started making jewelry, just before my mom passed away as as just something fun and I’m happy to say that I’ve sold over 600 pieces at this point and it got me through Covid. What I realized that one of the reasons why I was so unhappy in the last 10 years with my former band was because I was not being creative. I was stagnated and I started making this jewelry and I gotta say it saved my sanity. If you’re a creative soul and you’re not creating you do stagnate and it can become a form of depression. I put out a line of 10- 15 pieces every three or four months and within 24 hours they’re gone and people are crying I wanted that piece where did it go. So I’m so happy that that came to me when it did I’m loving doing that so that’s also on the website is where it’s sold from.”
More information at darbymills.com
Headpins are a Canadian rock group, founded as a side project in the late 1970s. The Headpins began gigging around the Vancouver area throughout 1981.
Headpins released their debut album Turn It Loud in 1982, which quickly went platinum and topped the charts for six weeks, with the hit single “Don’t It Make Ya Feel”. Their second release, Line of Fire, was another multi-platinum success, and included the hits “Just One More Time” and “Feel It (Feel My Body)”, resulting in the band touring Europe with Whitesnake at the beginning of 1984. The group’s sole entry on the US charts, “Just One More Time”, spent nine weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 70 in February 1984.