By Keith Sharp
Every artist/group who has been in the record business any length of time has one. That one record, which for some reason didn’t click, didn’t secure major airplay, didn’t sell through at retail and just didn’t reflect previous record sales.
Maybe it was bad timing, maybe their record company dropped the ball or maybe the writing output just wasn’t falling into place. Most of the time, the artist/group in question just writes off the project as an anomaly, performs the odd track from the project in their live set or incorporates those tracks into the inevitable `greatest hits’ collection or possibly features the entire lost project in a boxed set if they are lucky. But for most artists, that lost project sits glaring at them like a lost opportunity. “What would happen”, they ask, “If I/we took another run at it?”
“Never Look Back” a 1991 solo record release by, at that time, former Headpins’ lead vocalist Darby Mills is just such a project. Release by Warner Music Canada just as the grunge movement started to explode out of Seattle, Mills released four singles but just one video as she toured Canada opening for her good friend (and nemesis) Lee Aaron who was also promoting her “Some Girls Do” release.”
“Lee had four videos out and I had one, this was at a time when video presence on Much Music meant everything and I had no presence at all on that channel,” reflected Mills. “My bridesmaid, Denise Donlon was head of Much Music at the time and even she couldn’t help me, the situation was a real mess.”
Mills, who had been abruptly fired by Headpins’ guitarist/chief song writer Brian Macleod in 1985, was subsequently rescued by the band’s drummer Bernie Aubin who reformed the band after the untimely death of MacLeod in April 1993, bassist Ab Bryant rejoining in 1995.
Joined by twin guitarists Tony Dellacroce and Alfie Galpin, The Headpins have been touring consistently since 1993, playing mainly out West on the summer festival circuit and casinos and bars in the fall and winter, venturing East to perform the occasional festival date (last July at Rock the Park in London), but Mills realizes it would be a creative mistake and a waste of time and money to release a new Headpins record.
“People that come to a Headpins concert don’t want to hear new material,” declared the Vernon B.C native. “The world sucks right now so people are looking for a form of escapism when they come to our shows. They want to hear songs which meant something to them in their youth. To record new Headpins’ songs would be a lose/lose situation. If they sounded too much like original Headpins songs, people would be pissed off that “we are just copying Brian”. And if we tried to do something different, they would be like; “what are you doing?”, so we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.
So without a new Headpins’ record, Mills had continually contemplated reviving “Never Look Back”. “I’ve probably tried two or three runs at it in the past, at one point, I thought about re-recording the record with different musicians but I don’t have the resources to do that,” explained Mills. “So, I thought to myself, `I am trying to make this too perfect! I’ve got the album here, I own the rights to it, why don’t I just up-date it a bit and put it out there. I adopted a new saying; `Good is the new perfect’.
Renaming the record `Flying Solo`, Mills conscripted Headpins’ guitarist and studio wiz, Tony Dellacroce to add in the sub sonics and clean up the tracks. The result is an album, which may have sounded outdated in 1991 but , now with the resurgence of the 1980’s classic rock movement, Flying Solo sounds fresh and in vogue with today’s current scene.
“You look at what is going on in the world right now and some of the song’s lyrics are so in tune with today (“Someone Turn The Light On”, “Monkey),” enthused Mills. “The timing just seems so right for this record.”
One song which has been added is a poignant a Capella rendition of Loggins and Messina’s “House On Pooh Corner”, complete with noise interference from the audience.
“I had sang that song at a wedding and three funerals (including her mother’s) in the past three years and I knew I wanted to honour their memory by including `House On Pooh Corner’ on the record,” Mills informed. “ It sounds a bit flat because there were spots in the recording that were supposed to include harmonies, but we ran out of time before we could add the harmonies, so we decided to go with the track as it was.
The idea of including the audience interference at the start of the song is Mills’ reaction to a situation which daunts most performers. “That lack of response from an audience can be heartbreaking at times,” she notes. “You are virtually naked up there, letting it all hang out and when you sense that no one is paying attention, it can really be soul destroying.”
Having travelled to Toronto last year to work on Sean Kelly’s Metal On Ice Ep release as a companion to his book of the same name, Mills still hungers for the good ole days of touring with the likes of Whitesnake, ZZ Top and Eddie Money. “Yes the band would love to tour Eastern Canada but financially it’s just not practical anymore. If the Eastern promoters won’t pay us the money to make it worth our while I can’t justify coming back with not enough money to pay my bills.
A tough situation for someone who’s powerful vocals lead the Headpins in 1983 and 1984 with two mega-platinum records; `Turn It Loud’ (1983) and `Line Of Fire’ (1984) which produced a string of hit singles (“Don’t It Make Ya Feel”, “Just One More Time” and “Feel It (Feel My Body) and launched the band on a succession of tours in the States and Europe with Whitesnake.
Unfortunately, their Canadian record label, Solid Gold Records over extended itself, trying to break the band globally and went bankrupt in 1985 just as the band was recording their third album, `Head Over Heels’. The project was rescued by funding from MCA but a subsequent national tour opening for ZZ Top ended in acrimony, when Headpins, who had not been allowed an encore opening for ZZ Top, seemed to have been given that opportunity when the house lights stayed off after a storming opening set in Calgary.
“The crowd had gone wild, they were screaming for more and we thought ZZ Top had finally relented and given us an encore, so we took it,” reflected Mills. “What had really happened is that the intercom system had gone down and the house tech never got the cue to turn on the lights. We walked to our dressing rooms, elated by our performance only to be ordered into ZZ Top’s dressing room where we were told that our encore would put their show over by four minutes and that it would cost ZZ Top thousands of dollars.”
The Headpins were unceremoniously dumped by ZZ Top from planned East Coast U.S tour dates, finished off the tour with two dates in Vancouver and shortly after, Mills was informed at a lunch meeting with manager Sam Feldman that she was out of the band.
Mills was also told she had been retained by MCA for a solo project, she and Feldman flew it LA and was given the green light to fly to England and record a solo record (with top notch session players including Tony Levin). However, despite the label spending over $100,000 on sessions which produced six tracks, her A&R contact at MCA revoked and the new A&R chief selected Tiffany (Princess of The Shopping Malls) as the recipient of Mills’ recording contract.
Without a band and without a contract, Mills returned home to Vancouver totally devastated. With support from her future husband Brian Wadsworth, who operated his own studio, Mills rounded up a group of talented songwriters including Stan Meissner, Dave Pickell and Gord Maxwell which earned the support of Warner Music Canada for “Never Look Back”.
With the album’s re-release and with an opportunity to capitalize on a current renaissance in 80’s/90’s music, Mills hasn’t discounted an opportunity to tour in support of “Flying Solo”.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with the Headpins, I love the feeling of playing the hits and seeing the audience up on their feet clapping along to their favourite songs, but, yeah, it would be great to tour with this new record also. We’ll just have to see what happens.”