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Originally formed by Brian MacLeod and Ab Bryant as a sort of ‘side project’ from Chilliwack in 1980, the group’s earliest beginnings included drummer Matt Frennette, ex of Streetheart and Randy Bachman‘s wife Denise McCann, who had enjoyed a moderately successful disco career a few years earlier on vocals. The Pins and Loverboy swapped drummers, and Frenette was gone and Bernie Aubin was in, who incidentally co-wrote Loverboy‘s “The Kid Is Hot Tonite”.
Before the end of the year however, it was decided that McCann wasn’t quite right for the job of translating MacLeod‘s musical vision and was replaced by Darby Mills, already a seasoned session worker and singer of Steelback, a group closer to what MacLeod had in mind than McCann‘s disco background.
They continued playing the Vancouver area and won a local radio station’s ‘battle of the bands’ competition in 1981. CFOX’s album later that year featured two of their tracks, a live version of “Breakin’ Down” and “When A Man Loves a Woman”, their only recorded cover. Even while still negotiatiating a record deal their impact was immediate. The band’s live magnetism was rivalled by few and they soon became one of the hottest commodities on the West Coast, beginning with their first show in hometown Vancouver backing up Pat Travers and Blackmore’s Rainbow.
They inked a deal with independant Solid Gold Records before year’s end and went into Vancouver’s Little Mountain Studios, coming out with TURN IT LOUD in the spring of 1982. Co-produced by Bill Henderson, Bryant and Macleod‘s Chilliwack-mate, the record allowed the Headpins to hit the scene with an experienced master behind the controls. Charged with emotions, Macleod‘s guitars rang predominant, almost a friendly battle with Mills’ immediately signature voice. With Bryant and Aubin serving a tight powerful backbeat and beginning with the lead-off title-track, it grabbed you by the balls and refused to let go, finding its place in rock history as one of rock’s greatest anthems of all time.
Mills’ style became known as the growl and would go on to lead the charge in their energized live show, She was compared more to Robert Plant or David Coverdale than, say Ann Wilson or Janis Joplin. “Don’t It Make Ya Feel” turned the FM stations upside down, as did the title track, backed by the killer “Breakin’ Down”, one person’s handling his problems via suicide, and “People”. Even the power ballad “Winnin'” packed a punch, but still showed Mills’ range. By the time TURN IT LOUD turned platinum just a few short months later, the band had already toured most of the continent. The debut would go on to sell over a quarter-million copies in Canada alone and be certified double platinum, making it one of the most successful debut albums by a Canadian group ever. Macleod‘s and Bryant’s prior commitments to Chilliwack allowed them to only tour part of the schedule, while Mills and Aubin carried on with replacements Darcy MacDonald on guitars and bassist Dave Reimer
After touring the majority of the planet, they returned to Little Mountain and Immediately began work on the follow-up LINE OF FIRE, released in ’83. Backed by the singles, “Feel It (Feel My Body)” and “Don’t Stand In The Line Of Fire”, it stayed true to the course its predecessor had laid out. Other tracks included “Mine All Mine”, “I Know What You’re Thinking” and “Celebration”, helping the album make it two straight platinum records. LINE OF FIRE not only played the same chords at varying volumes as TURN IT LOUD, but the group also showed growth and diversity with “Feel It”, incorporating synthesizers as well as a horn section. An extended tour ensued, seeing the band on every major event in North America and Europe, including dates with the likes of KISS, Billy Squier, Helix, Black and Blue, Streetheart, Quiet Riot and Whitesnake.
Solid Gold Records meanwhile, was not nearly enjoying the success of The Pins, and closed its doors in early ’84. Nearly two years would pass before the Headpins would emerge from the studios again. The result was HEAD OVER HEELS, released on MCA in late fall of ’85. The band’s typical roaring attitude with new drummer Scott Reid was alive and well, serving up a healthy dose of Macleod‘s blazing riffs and Mills’ unmistakeable voice ringing true on “Still The One” and “Death Of Me.” One of the year’s sleeper hits also appeared in “You’re Only Afraid Of The Dark,” “Be With You,” and “The Danger Zone.” Again the band enjoyed sales of nearly 100,000 copies at home alone, making HEAD OVER HEELS their third straight album to at least reach gold.
Caught in the political ‘bs’ that is the record biz, the group found themselves the next year without a deal, but carried on touring across North America throughout ’86. In 1987 MCA released ANTHOLOGY, available only in the US. CBS Records acquired the rights to the Solid Gold catalogue the next year and issued GREATEST HITS in Canada, which incidentally contains the entire TURN IT LOUD repetoire minus one track, but is void of anything from HEAD OVER HEELS due to MCA owning the rights.
Mills left to pursue a solo career, and formed Plain Jane in ’87, and then The Unsung Heroes, releasing her debut solo album NEVER LOOK BACK in 1991. Aubin joined The Edge, then the reformed Headpins with MacLeod (after his new short lived project Prisoner), new singer Chrissy Steele, Danny Latham on bass, and Matt Carratollo on keys. The first stage of this incarnation also featured a return by Matt Frennette while Loverboy was on hiatus, until Aubin replaced him. The band continued on for awhile while MacLeod and Steele wrote material on his Grand Marnier with Steele and some friends, including Holly Woods, Tim Feehan, and Mike Reno and Scott Smith of Loverboy.
Differences with MCA were settled, but Macleod was diagnosed with cancer before the record was finished. Label execs decided it should be released as Steele‘s debut solo project instead, and MAGNET TO STEELE hit the stores in the summer of ’91.
The rock world mourned the loss of Brian ‘Too Loud’ Macleod a year later when he lost his bout with cancer. The former members of the band were at this point off doing their own thing, but people still yearned for the live magnetism only they can bring to a party, so various incarnations of the group, which included among others, Vic Nichols (real name Vic Nichols) on guitars and John Dryden (also a touring member of a version of Toronto and Trooper among others). Eventually, the core of Mills, Aubin (after spending some time in The Edge and Prisoner) and Bryant were back together, hitting the stages across Canada and into the US for the rest of the decade.
LINE OF FIRE was re-released in 2002 followed by an all-new greatest hits package in ’04, entitled coincidentally enough THE COMPLETE GREATEST HITS a year later, which included the videos for “Don’t It Make You Feel” and “Just One More Time”.
The band carried on touring coast to coast, and made some trips into the US and Mexico, when Mills announced in 2016 she was leaving to resurrect her solo career. Her ’91 solo album was repackaged under the new title FLYING SOLO – re-mixed by Dellacroce. The Darby Mills Project then went on to release a live album and be featured in a Telus documentary within the next couple of years.
Meanwhile on the Headpins front and in time for a fall/winter tour in ’16, Kelowna native Kat Lawrence was named the new singer. Picking up without losing a beat, the band carries on playing coast to coast, while everyone carries on doing their own things on the side.
With notes from Bernie Aubin, Anthony Dellacroce, John Dryden, Alfie Galpin, Danny Latham, Darby Mills, Denise McCann, and Chrissy Steele