It’s always difficult to find a good band that we can cover in our “Back To The Past“ story. Especially when you don’t have enough information available about the band. This band here was pretty well-known back in the eighties. But I think that a lot of facts were not really known by many of our readers. Simply because nobody really cared too much about all the details - they just liked the music of the band. When you have another listen to the three albums that this band released, you must admit that they’ve made some high quality hard rock. Reason enough to sum up some facts by means of this “Back To The Past” story. This time we take you all the way to Canada and turn back the clock to the late seventie, when the foundations were formed of THE HEADPINS.
In the late seventies, Brian MacLeod and Ab Bryant decide to form a band next to their already existing band CHILLIWACK. CHILLIWACK plays pop music, but both guys want to play music where the raw edges are not polished away just yet. Brian plays guitar and Ab is a bassplayer. Matt Frenette becomes the drummer of the band and so they only have to search for a suitable singer. Randy Bachman, leader of BACHMAN, TURNER, OVERDRIVE comes with the solution. His wife becomes the frontlady of THE HEADPINS. Her name is Denise McCann. Denise already has had some experiences as a singer......of disco songs. But besides that, she was also in a rock band, called DEAD MARINES. In the next few months the band start to rehearse, but things don’t work out too well. Matt Frenette leaves the band and returns to the other band he was playing with at that time, LOVERBOY. LOVERBOY was touring and needed a drummer that was fully dedicated to the band. Matt made the decision to tour with LOVERBOY and says goodbye to THE HEADPINS. Bernie Aubin became the new drummer of the band soon after the departure of Matt. But not long after that, Denise also leaves the band. Together with PRISM drummer Rocket Norton she starts the band NIGHT TRAIN.
But what about THE HEADPINS? Founder member Ab and Brian find a figure skater, who also sings in a local band named STREETBACK. She becomes the lead singer, that everybody will know as the lead singer for THE HEADPINS. Her name is Darby Mills. It’s 1980 at that time. A stable line up is formed and the band starts writing songs for a debut album. People think this would be easy, because Bryant and MacLeod are experienced songwriters from their CHILLIWACK period. But this is a totally different band with a totally different chemistry and a totally different singer. And that’s very important when you’re writing songs. And they also didn’t want to rely on their success with CHILLIWACK. In 1981, there is a band contest organised in Vancouver by radio station CFOX-FM. THE HEADPINS decide to contribute as a new band and write two songs for this contest, namely “Breaking It Down” and their version of the soul classic “When A Man Loves A Woman” (PERCY SLEDGE). They make it to a compilation, that was made of this “Battle Of The Bands” contest. Most interesting fact for all the record collectors among us is, that “When A Man Loves A Woman” was never released on any other record of THE HEADPINS, so this compilation contains an unreleased track. The album however will be very hard to find, I guess. It’s called “Vancouver Seeds” and it’s from 1981.
In 1982 we see the release of the debut album of the band, called “Turn It Loud”. It contains eight songs and runs for forty hard minutes. The band is picked up by a relatively small label, called Solid Gold Records. The album was co-produced by ex-CHILLIWACK member Bill Henderson. What a coincidence! The best way to play this very solid rock album is to simply turn it LOUD! Highlights are title track and opener “Turn It Loud” and “People”, both songs are full of smashing guitar work of Mr Brian 'Too Loud' MacLeod and the siren vocals of Darby. She really is the frontlady of the band. This is emphasized even more by the fact that she is the only band member, that’s mentioned on the album sleeve. Also, the album can be titled as a very honest one. No technical additions or difficult constructions are to be found on it. The album comes straight from the heart. The songs will have to grow by singing them a million times in clubs and bars and not by making an already optimal version in the studio. From the sleeve, it’s not really clear who is in the band. The favorite song of the Canadian radio stations is “Don’t It Make Ya Feel (Like Dancing)”. This song will also come out as the bands first single in 1982.
Canada found themselves a new successful band next to ther already existing superstars like MAX WEBSTER, HEART, LOVERBOY, RUSH, PAT TRAVERS, FRANK MARINO, TRIUMPH and of course LEE AARON. The band does an extensive tour throughout the whole country and the album easily becomes gold with over 200,000 sold copies. “Turn It Loud” also appears on a Dutch compilation LP from 1982 called “Hard 2” next to bands like RIOT, BLACKFOOT, MORE, VANDENBERG, TED NUGENT, BODINE and GAMMA.
However, touring through Canada takes a lot of time and the fans become hungry for new material. So the band records a new album. The album is called “Line Of Fire”. It contains eight songs worthy of forty minutes of rock music. And because of Darby’s vocals, you can call this album a great successor of their debut. But if you listen really carefully, you will definately hear some small changes. The live feel has disappeared a bit. The sound became more open and perhaps more clean. Nonetheless, there are a few straight forward rock songs on this album like “I Know What You’re Thinking”. The use of keyboards however changes the sound. Keyboards the way DEEP PURPLE used them. But not only keyboards made their introduction to the sound of THE HEADPINS. No, they also added horn sections to some songs. Good for commerciality, but who needs horns in a rock band? Nonetheless, “Line Of Fire” is still a very good melodic rock album.
“Celebration” becomes the first single of this record. It’s released in 1983. The band takes this album on the road and another extensive tour through Canada follows after the release of the album. During this tour they include a mini tour through Canada as a package of three with HELIX and STREETHEART. The band liked touring a lot and they continue touring in 1984. They did one tour with EDDY MONEY and one with QUIET RIOT. They also released a second single from “Line Of Fire”, namely “Just One More Time”.
In Europe the interest in the band starts to grow and in 1984 they decide to come over for a tour. For two months they’re supporting David Coverdales WHITESNAKE. They also do a TV appearance for the well-known German TV program “Rockpallast”. Darby makes a very good impression during this very powerful gig. The European fans know that they can’t leave THE HEADPINS unnoticed now. The band made a very fine first impression on the European stages and the people are longing towards a second European attack of the band. Fact however is that the band will never return to Europe again. The story will later explain why this actually never happened. Okay, the band returns to Canada and they are ready to write some new songs for their third album. The album is called “Head Over Heels”, it contains ten songs and has a running time of forty-five minutes. And in my opinion it’s there where the problems start for this band. First of all their record company Solid Gold went bankrupt. The band signs a contract with MCA however. This was the easy part, 'cause you can imagine that THE HEADPINS were an hot item already. But more things happened. Bryant and MacLeod decide to quit with CHILLIWACK. THE HEADPINS are their only focus now. This meant that they had a lot of time to work things out in the studio. With the result that the sound becomes even more polished than before with the use of choirs, more keyboards and instruments like tuba and saxophone were added. Does the album taste sweet? Yes it does if you compare it to their debut album. No, if you listen to it closely enough. The solos of Brian MacLeod are still very enjoyable and the keyboards are still used well. But there are also keyboards in the different layers of the compositions and they make this album not sound as direct as “Turn It Loud”. Fans will call it an evolution of their sound, but in the overal opinions the album is called their most commercial one. We also see the departure of long time band member Bernie Aubin on the drums. He’s replaced by Mark Craney. And if you hear his drumsound on a song like “Hot Stuff”, you will agree it has a much more clinical sound. Like it comes from a drum computer. John Ferreira plays a saxophone solo on “Chain Gang”. Matt Frenette plays drums on a song called “Don’t Matter What You Say”, which was co-written by his fellow LOVERBOY mate Mike Reno. LOVERBOY meets THE HEADPINS on this song. Together with the bluesy sounding “Never Come Down From The Danger Zone” it easily becomes the highlight of the album. Last but not least the band added an extra keyboard player named Darcy MacDonald. It’s 1985 when the album is released and after that the band is ready again to do what they like the most......touring. In Canada they tour for about a month with as highlight a two night stand in Vancouver as support to ZZ TOP. “Staying All Night” is released as the only single from this album in the same year.
In 1986 they tour through North America and get some very possitive response from the fans over there. But MCA thinks different about the band and at the end of 1986 they drop the band. The band decides to split up. It’s the end of a short but very successful career. In 1987 it’s very quiet. But in 1988 Brian wants to blow new life into the band. Darby has started a solo career already and decides not to cooperate with this reunion. She has moved to Memphis and has found herself a new management and a stable personal life. So Brian is on his own and he has to search for a new singer. And he finds himself a great new singer in CHRISSY STEELE. She fits perfectly in the place of Darby Mills. The band even records a fourth HEADPINS album. Brian MacLeod however finished the whole record session. But soon there after his health began to fail. The record company decides, that the fourth HEADPINS album will be released under the name of CHRISSY STEELE now. It’s her 1991 release, which is called “Magnet To Steele”. And so this lady releases her first solo album, that should have been THE HEADPINS’ fourth album. Also in 1988 the record company decides to throw in a ‘best of’ compilation simply called “Greatest Hits”. It’s a compilation which covers the fifteen ultimate HEADPINS songs taken from their three released albums. No bonus tracks, demos or live songs were included, which is a shame in my opinion. It would have been really nice, when they would have added “When A Man Loves A Woman” from the first radio compilation for example.
The nineties will bring us news about Darby Mills again. After her HEADPINS departure, she hasn't been doing nothing. And in 1991 she returns with a solo album, called “Never Look Back”. It contains ten tracks and is very much influenced by the sound of HEADPINS. However Darby calls her project DARBY MILLS AND THE UNSUNG HEROES. The CD is full of great radio rock with ballsy guitar work and the powerful voice of Darby as sparkling central figure. It’s obvious, that she didn’t look back at all at her past, ‘cause Darby comes up with a totally new line up consisting of Corey James Philips-guitar, Shelley Andruschko-bass, Jeff Slewidge-drums and Paul Minshall-keyboards. Together with a handful of guest musicians she seem to have started a whole new life. I must say that it’s the first CD on which I would like to draw a comparision with the voice of Ann Wilson of HEART. The once so remarkable AC/DC like yelling has gone and Darby shows that she can sing with emotion too. It’s 1992, when Brian MacLeod loses his uneven battle with cancer. He dies and only leaves behind a memory in three successful albums of his band HEADPINS. It seems that this is the end of a long and successfull career. “Turn It Loud”, the debut album of the band, for example sold about 200,000 copies which is good for triple platinum.
This fact and the fact that radio rock seemed to make a come back in the nineties make this whole story a little bit longer. Darby decides to do a reunion of THE HEADPINS. The world needed it and 1994 is the year that THE HEADPINS start touring again. In Canada they toured endlessly. Over four years they play in every club imaginable. In 1998 they play at the Classic Rock Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick for over 50,000 people, ain’t that awesome???!!!! It’s 1998 when Darby wants to do something else. She has this great idea in her head that she wants to work out. She finds that there’s not enough entertainment for the people that are aged over thirty. She wants to do some sort of a flashback tour complete with lights and costume changes covering the live and work of three rock divas. A rockshow which you’ll never forget once you’ve seen it. Darby will perform songs you can easily sing along to because they all became huge hits. She chose to cover songs by three ladies that meant a lot to the music history namely BETTE MIDLER, TINA TURNER and JANIS JOPLIN. Her project is called “Three Broad Nite” and a try out will take place at the Restoration Music Festival. Darby’s band will consist of Steve Durant on keyboards and trumpet, Ron Clempson on guitar, Steve Butler on drums, Shane Sperling on bass, Gary Clark on saxophone, and Brian Henderson on saxophone. There’s no more information available however about this project. A project of Darby Mills, a great singer who was almost forgotten in the minds of so many hard rock fans. But we’ll keep reminding you of her. And so does the record company, because in 2000, they re-released “Turn It Loud” on CD. Another reason to spend our “Back To The Past” colum to DARBY MILLS & THE HEADPINS.
written by: Toine van Poorten/copyright Metal Maidens
TURN IT LOUD ('82 Solid Gold)
LINE OF FIRE ('83 Solid Gold)
HEAD OVER HEELS ('85 MCA)
GREATEST HITS ('88 MCA)
DON’T IT MAKE YA FEEL ('82 Solid Gold)
CELEBRATION ('83 Solid Gold)
JUST ONE MORE TIME ('84 Solid Gold)
STAYING ALL NIGHT ('85 MCA)
VANCOUVER SEEDS compilation ('81 CFOX): BREAK IT DOWN & WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN