Don't mess with a soprano  

Queen of Scream mellows

“Never look back again. I don’t care what they say.”

Darby Mills, the Queen of Scream, sings those words on two of her three solo albums, Never Look Back, 1991, and Flying Solo, 2016.

After meeting Darby, I soon realized the Eveready battery has nothing on her. Her spirit is unstoppable. It doesn't matter how many times things fail, she always bounces back, ready to continue the fight.

Darby, born in Vernon in 1959, has been in the rock business as a lead singer for 45 years and counting. Her family has called the Okanagan home for seven generations and she has no plans to leave, unless she goes on tour.

She fondly remembers summers at the family cabin on Mable Lake. She would listen to her dad sing, loved hearing the applause he got, even from unseen people across the lake.

The music bug had bitten. It just took a few years for her to notice.

In the 1940s, her mom was a violin player and Vernon Days Queen. Her dad was a singer and a good hockey player. He ended up at a crossroads. CBC had asked him to be the host singer for a program at the same time the Detroit Red Wings drafted him. 

He chose hockey but suffered a head injury — no helmets in those days — severe enough to end his hockey career just when it was beginning.

Darby’s youth was spent close to the ice, like her dad. She was a competitive figure skater and found herself in Grade 10, Vernon High School, at a crossroads, too. She was invited to become a figure-skating instructor in Golden or she could continue singing in a band.

She chose music.

In 1977, she was in her first band, in her garage, Presence, inspired by Led Zeppelin.  This was the beginning of her association with bands that continues today.

During the 1970s, she moved to Calgary to sing with an African-American, seven-piece band named Business Before Pleasure. She soon moved to Lethbridge and sang with the rock-and-roll band, Steelback. She sang backup and earned a good reputation for her singing in the Vancouver area at this time.

In 1982, her big break happened when she was hired as lead singer for the well-established band, Headpins.  She joined Headpins right before their first LP, Turn It Loud, on the Solid Gold label that went platinum selling more than 200,000 copies.

“This started 10 years of debauchery and I survived to tell about it,” she said with a laugh.

The Headpins toured with bands such as Whitesnake, KISS, Eddie Money and ZZ Top.  In the early 1980s, they toured Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

The Canadian Encyclopedia wrote, “the band was dominated by the onstage abandon and screaming vocals of the inexhaustible Mills.”

This life seems so glamorous on the outside. “What was it like touring Europe?”  

She looked at me sagely and described the glamorous tour as six weeks of waking up, getting into the van, driving to the next location, hopefully having enough time to shower, eat, and warm up before you performed and then doing it over and over again. 

Gruelling is a better description.

Bands are a group of people put together for music. This makes them vulnerable, touring is exhausting and Headpins was all the above. The band went through a number of personnel changes, but Mills, lead vocalist, Brian MacLeod, multi-instrumentalist, and Ab Bryant, bassist were consistent until 1986.

In 1986, they were making their third album when their recording company went bankrupt. 

It wasn't all bad; Darby did have some fun in 1986, too. She had dinner with Prince Charles and Princess Di as part of the Young Achievers in Canada. She also sat around the piano singing show tunes, although she told me this was definitely not her strength, with Brian Mulroney.

Darby was at a crossroads again. Although, she participated in the 1991 revival of the Headpins and did a cross-Canada tour with them in 1989, the time to break away and go solo had arrived or as she said to me,”time to dig positive out of a lot of negative doo doo.”

Darby formed the band Unsung Heroes in 1991 and made her debut album, Never Look Back with the hit,
Cry To Me.

Between tours and singing, she carved out time for her family, — husband Brian Wadsworth and sons Clayton and Parker. Music took a back seat, however, when her dad developed Alzheimer’s disease and her husband had a major heart attack. Darby, the singer, became the caregiver. 

She turned to teaching tae-kwon-do, the Korean martial art, during this time, too. Her black belt could finally be put to use.

After this hiatus, she formed Darby Mills Project, which has put out two CDs, five videos, and toured Canada.  They had work lined up for 2020 and then COVID hit. The band is now silent, waiting until it can tour and perform for large audiences again.

COVID has given her the longest break she has ever had from singing. “If creative people stop, they stagnate.”  She didn't stop; she started creating — jewelry.

“I was always a rock hound.” 

Out of a box of rocks she found among her mother’s things, Darby made a necklace utilizing the rocks and memories of her mother. A friend saw the necklace. As more friends wanted one too, her jewelry business grew. 

You can see her work on her website: http://www.darbymills.com/

Darby has a new three-piece ’60s and ’70s cover band, Press Play designed especially for COVID’s restrictive audience numbers. This is a deliberately small band, one that doesn’t tour but simply entertains winery clientele.

This is a new style of singing for Darby, a softer type of singing that has been a refreshing change from her hard rock style. Perhaps the Queen of Scream will become the Queen of Cream as the sweetness of her sound has a chance to shine.

“Never look back again. I don’t care what they say. Take hold of my hand and believe in me.”

I do, Darby, I do!


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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