Darby Mills

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DARBY MILLS BIOGRAPHY

GRADE 10... THE FIRST BAND!

While standing in the basement of a high school buddy to watch his band rehearse for an upcoming show, the band started playing “Crazy on You” by Heart.  Mills reacted by stating "a GUY can't sing Ann Wilson!!”  Her friend laughed and replied, "then YOU sing it!" tossing the album cover at her, which contained the lyrics.  So she DID, and subsequently and was invited to sing at their next show.

1974 “KASHMIR” named after the Led Zeppelin song, was formed. They practiced in her parents’ basement for the better part of a year.  Mills recalls one night the guitar player commented, "you sound like Janis Joplin.”  Mills replied "WHO?" and the education there began.

1977/78  Senior High school, Mills was chosen along with a few school mates by the students Council to perform the theme song "We May Never Pass this Way Again" for a crowd of 400 at their Graduation ceremonies .

HEADPINS

The Zodiac Night Club was packed to the rafters and the members of a new 'TOO LOUD' act had stopped by to catch Steelbacks' show. Only a few words were exchanged, they left, and that was that. The following week, Mills and the band were back in Calgary. Darby's room phone rang. It was Brian Too Loud Macleod. He mentioned he’d seen her the week before and wanted to know if she was interested in singing for the Headpins.  Dumbfounded, she asked if he knew exactly who he was talking to. He answered YES, told her to take your time deciding and that he'd call back tomorrow for her answer...!

1980, CHILLIWACK, LOVERBOY, TORONTO, SOLID GOLD Records, and the HEADPINS became a staple in life.

Mills states "the next 5 years were the most incredible, invigorating, self-finding, mind-blowing, skill developing, heartbreaking and discouraging years she'd experienced. Nothing is as it seems, how much do you give, how far do you go?"  was now the question.

Contracts, Lawyers, Managers, Studios, Record Companies, buses, planes, hotels, hotels, hotels, even friends, can and do, have their own agenda. A thick skin and endless conviction are a must if you want to survive here.  Mills met and married Brian Wadsworth within these years. He was then her Co-manager. 

​Mills is the voice on three Headpins releases and another three greatest hits CDs followed.  Darby Mills and the Headpins released their debut album 'Turn It Loud' in 1982. Selling over 500,000 records and tapes (old school) topping the charts for six weeks in Canada. The hit single 'Don't It Make ya Feel' is a track still played on hundreds of radio stations around the world. 'People' and 'Turn It Loud' were also singles on that record.

In 1982, the Headpins were nominated for Most Promising New Act at the Juno's, the Canadian Music Awards.

Mills presented an award that year as well.  In 1983 the Headpins won the Shure Music Express Award for Top New Group and Mills won Top Female Vocalist.


The Headpin's second release 'Line of Fire' was another platinum-plus success with 150,000 in sales.  It included the hit songs 'Just One More Time' and 'Feel It (Feel My Body)'.  In 1984 they released their third and final studio recording 'Head Over Heels' which included the singles 'Staying all Night' and 'Be with You' selling 50,000 units.  These numbers do not include sales over the past 20 years. The Headpin tours landed them on the concert stage with such Bands as ZZ TOP, Whitesnake, KISS, Vince Neill, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Quiet Riot, Nazareth, Nickelback, Eddy Money,  Pat Benatar, Heart, Pat Travers, Ritchie Blackmore  the list goes on.​

1985  One day after the Canadian leg of the ZZ TOP tour, Mills was fired.

 

(More detailed information on the Headpins Bio)

 

Thankfully, it was a wonderful time in Vancouver as many things were happening including Expo. Mills quickly put together a 9 piece band including a backup singer and a horn section called Don’t Look Down. They play in and around the Vancouver's 'A Circuit' and made it into one of the newest hot spots of the day the 86 STREET Music Hall, as well as opening for Gowan at the Expo Theater.  By the time Expo ended Mills found herself flying off to Los Angeles. As it happened, she had been resigned with MCA Records USA as a Solo Artist.  After a few weeks co-writing with a plethora of talented and up-and-coming writers Mills was off to London England. She recorded five tracks at Ridge Farm Studio then headed to Ell Pie Studios (owned by Pete Townsend), all songs of where to  be her NEW sound. The Label felt that Funky Dance music was the new trend so that's what they were aiming for. 

Greg Walsh of Tina Turner 'Private Dancer' fame was at the controls, Toni Levin on Bass, Phil Palmer on Guitar (Tina Turner) and on BG’s side men from Mike and the Mechanics and so many more! “The talent was truly awe-inspiring.  Everyday I’d walk into the studio to a new OMG,” says Mills.  Returning home for a month to rest and a chance to write more material, Mills received a call from the Ell Pie Studios office. They were no longer getting replies from MCA and wanted to know what was happening. Mills and her then lone management (Hubby had to leave the band fearing conflict of interest) immediately jumped on a plane for LA and called a meeting. They arrived to discover that her A&R man and his team were no longer employed by MCA.  The new head of A&R proceeded to reveal what he and his team were looking to accomplish.  In fact "We will be breaking a female artist this year but WHO" he said?  Mills was informed of a young girl who had little to no experience but they believed she had SOMETHING.  Mills flew home that night a FREE agent.

MCA did in fact break a new female artist 'Tiffany' who flooded the scene playing shopping malls across America.

​Within 5 months Mills also lost her management deal and fell into somewhat of a depressed state. However, she realized the show must go on ... actually, the show WILL go on, with or without you!  After getting a huge bump from a now lifelong buddy, she left her house and hit the stage for the first time in months.

UNSUNG HEROES

1991 The new band 'Darby Mills and the Unsung Heroes' released 'Never Look Back' and landed a cross Canada tour with Lee Aaron, then played stand-alone dates for another year.  The CD yielded four radio singles, and a JUNO nomination.  The CD sold upwards of 35,000 copies.  Unfortunately in times of Much Music and MTV, having only one video to support the CD it was not enough to keep the band in the spotlight. Mills was released from her contract with Warner Music and the chance to release another CD.  With this turn of events Mills felt she had had enough, not to mention she had been dealing with a lawsuit the past 5 years and it had come to a frustrating conclusion. The Headpins had acquired a substantial debt of $500,000 to their former manager.  Even though Mills had been fired from the band and they intended to continue without her, she was personally being held responsible for its repayment. It was time to live life outside the music industry. Now retired and her first baby on the way, the stress was too much.  Mills felt she had no other recourse but to declared bankruptcy.  Again, after a few months of self-exile, Mills got back up on stage with a club cover band called Mad Max, managed by the Headpins old drummer.  Within a year they were mistakenly dubbed the Headpins. Scared she might find herself in another lawsuit, Mills spent the next year looking over her shoulder.  Thankfully, there were no more lawyers at her door and no one came to take her away. That version of the Headpins continued to tour for the next 26 years.

In 2013, while caring for her Mom and Dad, Mill's mom passed away unexpectedly.  Within 6 months, her husband had a massive heart attack, flat-lining in their driveway.  Thanks to the skilled First Responders and his incredible doctor they were able to bring him back to life.  These events started Mills on a new path, looking for clarity, and the need in some part to feel in control of what time she had left.

​2016  It was time to find HERSELF, starting with the 'Darby Mills Project'.

(More in-depth information on the Darby Mills Project Bio)

WHAT WAS TO BE.

At 14, Mills skill set had earned her spot on a special team of young skaters. She was invited to Vancouver by Canada’s own Karen Magnussen, who sponsored a training camp for the top young skaters in BC. As she grew older, competing was no longer her focus so she turned her attention to the possibility of becoming an instructor. Offers came for her to leave home to teach but in the end she chose to stay in school and graduated with her classmates. Which is where she had her first experience performing for LARGE crowds.

FROM DAY ONE.

Darby Mills was born in 1959, in the small town of Vernon BC, Canada.  At the age of 5, she started figure skating and by 9 the arena is where she spent her winters and summers till graduating in 1978. 5am practices 2 and 3 times a week, as well as numerous nightly sessions … she was dedicated.  As a youngster she spent many nights at her parents’ cabin, where she claims the desire to perform took hold. At night the family would sit along the driftwood that lay on the beach. Her Dad with his powerful tenor voice, would serenade them with the songs of his youth. "I still feel shivers of pride when I think about listening to him sing” says Mills.  “After every song, applause would ring out, even from across the lake. There were many bonfires and cabins with families listening too. I felt the rush the adrenaline and right there I knew."

THE JOURNEY CONTINUED.

One week after graduation, she loaded her worldly possessions and drove her silver Gremlin off to Calgary, Alberta.  This decision spurred from sneaking into the local bars. Many of the clubs booked Alberta bands at the time. Befriending some, they were willing to let Mills get up on stage to sing.  While in Calgary, Mills auditioned and spent many hours in and out of numerous bands. Nothing stuck, so next up was a quick excursion to Vancouver to front a blues/jazz band called "Forecast." That didn’t work out, so she headed back to Calgary for some more Rock’n’Roll and joined “SARGENT” a local Calgary ‘A Circuit’ success story. Settling in Calgary for a short time she realized a day job would defiantly her next requirement. Hired at Mr. Sound Records introduced her to even more of what the music business had in store, while it helped to pay the bills.

DANCIN' TO A DIFFERENT BEAT!

1979 Mills landed an audition with a 7 piece dance band originating from Harlem, New York. 

Mills booked the time off and headed to Edmonton, Alta. Out of approximately 30 singers, she got the GIG!!  2 weeks later they were on tour.

Business Before Pleasure or BBP for short, played songs by Donna Summers, Anita Ward, Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder ... it was a taste of a new life including dance steps on stage.  Just over a month into the touring schedule BBP landed in Lethbridge, Alberta for a two-week booking. Just across the street was the local Rock 'n' Roll bar where Steelback was playing, they were also booked for two weeks. On her breaks, Mills would run across the street from the Dance Club to the Rock Room to watch the Rockers wail. By the end of week one, Steelback had invited her up on their stage to jam. Mid-week two, she got an offer to join them and move to Vancouver Island. Not that she didn’t enjoy and appreciate the Funk and Soul education from BBP, she knew where her heart was and where it needed to be. Mills gave her notice, feeling terrible about leaving so quickly. Mustering a solemn goodbye to her New York connections she jumped into the OLD blue van and headed off to the West Coast, just one more time. Then one night, approximately a year into her tenure with Steelback, Rock Royalty were in the audience!

PLAIN JANE

1987 Mills formed Plain Jane, hitting the clubs for the better part of a year, when John Kalodner (the Dude looks like a lady guy) from Geffen Records, LA stepped in.  She met him while on tour in England with Whitesnake.  John flew Mills down to Nashville, Tennessee, where she co-wrote a handful of songs for her next attempted at a solo project. When it was all said and done, a few tunes landed but unfortunately it was a pass for Geffen Records. Over the next three years, there were other close calls with Canadian Record companies, then finally Warner Chappell publishing and in turn, Warner Music Canada signed Mills to a publishing deal and recording contract. Mills' husband had taken over her personal Management again as well he had just finished building SOUNDWERKS Recording Studio in East Vancouver. It was an inovative recording/rehearsal space where acts such as Loverboy, Colin James, Doug and the Slugs, Spirit of the West, One Horse Blue and so many more rehearsed and recorded. 

 

1990 Mills hit the studio hard and finally released her first solo recording 'Never Look Back'.

“Don’t Stop Keepin’On” - DMills

2017 Filmed a documentary for Telus On-Demand  'Queen of Scream', telling the story about her life and journey as a woman in the 1980's music industry. 2017 She was presented with the honorary White Cowboy Hat from the Calgary Stampede committee. Most recently, Mills was invited to join Gene Simmons on stage for a duet of 'I Was Made for Loving You' at Cannafest. The Canadian Rock Festival is held yearly in Grand Forks, BC, Canada.  Mills was a staple performer the first five years and was proudly added to the fabulous 'Wall of Murals' by Paul Archer and Michael Johnston. ​ In 2019, Mills joined Canada's All Star band, Toque, at the Grey Cup Tail-Gate Party, to sing the Headpins 'Don't It Make You Feel ' which Toque had covered on their latest CD release.

Mills' accomplished a vast collection of memories in her years as a vocalist. Dining with the Royals, Prince Charles and Lady Diana at a dinner for young achievers of Canada in 1986. She sang to a SOLD OUT audience at BC Place for the celebration of Rick Hanson's Man in Motion Tour.  She performed at the opening ceremonies of  EXPO 86, Vancouver’s.  She was one of the voices to sing on the newest renditions of 'Oh Canada' sponsored by the Canadian Government.  In turn performed for Queen Elizabeth amongst Canada's finest for the 150th Birthday celebration,  held on the Parliament grounds in Ottawa. She sat in with then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at 24 Sussex Drive.  She was the voice of the Calgary Stampede theme song for 5 years. Received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 at the BC, OMA's. She has voiced jingles for such companies as Sun Rype Juice, Britannia Jeans, the Dallas Morning News USA, Arco Gas Company, one or two B movie soundtracks, that will remain nameless.