Band: The Centurions
High School: Lee Edwards High School (now Asheville High School)
Band Members: Johnny House (guitar) — Class of ‘67
Danny Keylon (bass) — Class of ‘69
Perry Hines (drums) — Class of ‘72
Harry Austraw (organ) — Class of ‘69
Years Active: 1966-1969
Recordings: Yes, though not as the Centurions. They recorded several 45s under the name The Dirte Four, both instrumentally and as a back-up band for soul singers like Willie Hobbs, Fats Diamond, and the Asheville duo Pic and Bill.
Current bands: The Nightcrawlers (Johnny House), Mac Arnold and a Plate Full of Blues (Danny Keylon)
Meet the Centurions
Johnny House: There was four of us. We were all at Lee Edwards together, everyone of us: ’67, ’68, ’69, in that area. We were much younger than the Satrys guys were. I’m 63 now. So the Satyrs were one of the first. We were riding along on their coattails.
We played all over the south. We went from Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, just wherever. And we were thrilled to death. If we got paid $10 or $15 apiece, we thought we were really something. We’d play any place that people would have us. We did an awful lot of college frat parties. Back then you could play in a bar, but you had to be very careful because we were all under age. So we had to have an adult with us. On tour. [Laughs.] Our keyboard player’s mother and father always backed us. One of them would come with us. Somebody would always be with us to keep an eye on us, make sure we didn’t get into something we didn’t need to get into.
We were just kids. We’d play the Pines. We would back up the Spontanes. We would back up the Catalinas. We would back up all these big name acts. [Laughs.] It was something else. And we were just children. [Laughs.]
That Asheville Soul (and Funk)
We also had a group called The Dirte Four. We had a lead singer by the name of Willie Hobbs, and he had a hit record. This was before the Centurions, in 1966, but it consisted of all the same players that were in the Centurions. We just changed the name. [Laughs.] Willie now lives down in Charlotte. He’s probably close to 70 years old. Amazing talent. I don’t think he sings anymore. I lost contact with him over the years. But a wonderful, wonderful singer.
Then we went with a couple guys named Pic and Bill [Charles Pickens and Billy Mills]. We recorded a song called ”This Is It.” Our biggest hit with them was a tune called "All I Want Is You," but not all of the members played on that one, just me and the bass player. We had the number one hit record in Miami, Florida, for about 36 weeks in a row on the Billboard charts. Those guys did quite well back then. We traveled all over the South with those guys.
We were strictly an R&B funk band. When people would listen to us, they would say, “There is no way that these four boys are white.” We’d play a lot of the black clubs. Because Willie Hobbs was a black man, and so was Pic and Bill. We would go in, and the curtains would open, and there would be dead silence. Until we started playing. I mean, we’d look like 100-watt light bulbs in there, man. We’d be the only white people around. And when we started playing, the place would go crazy. It was amazing.
45s and Memories
The Centurions did record, but I don’t know that I have anything. I’ve got several 45 records that we recorded instrumentally as The Dirte Four. Then I’ve got a few records that we recorded with Willie Hobbs, and I’ve got a few records that we recorded with Pic and Bill.
There’s an incredible music history in Asheville. Generations and generations of musicians. Some of the finest musicians in the country are right here in Asheville. One of my very best friends, Warren Haynes — who plays with the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule — I mean, we all grew up playing together. Fortunately, Warren took it to the next level. And he’s done quite well for himself. But he never forgot his roots. He always comes home. We can call him and ask him for anything, and he’ll be right there.
We had some good memories with that. And you know, pretty much everybody is still playing. There’s a handful that’s not, but I guarantee you they’ve still got an instrument somewhere in their house.
I use my music now as a stress reliever. Of course you know, years ago, we could go out and have a few beers and hoop and holler. But now when we go out to play, we have to have two or three Aleve, then maybe a couple cups of coffee just so we can stay awake. God forbid any of us start drinking. [Laughs.] There’s no telling what would happen!