THE CENTAURS STORY
Hugh Reilly grew up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and came to Vancouver to attend University. He had taken classical music lessons as a child, but was more interested in playing the guitar. While attending the University of British Columbia in 1964, he ran into Don Wylie, an old friend from his hometown. Don was a singer and guitar player looking to start up a band. Together they enlisted Sax player Ross Barrett, Bob Gannon on bass (later Rick Enns), and a young drummer, John Gedak. They called themselves The Rogues.
John grew up in Richmond, B.C. and fell in love with the drums at a young age. The Rogues played a handful of live shows including a few at The Bunkhouse on Davie street, run by Les Stork. However, the chemistry of the band just wasn't working, and they split up.
In early 1965, John and Hugh re-formed the group as The Centaurs along with Don Wylie (guitar), Al West (Bass), and Louis Pitre (Keyboards).
Like John, Pitre also hailed from Richmond and had been a member of The Canadian VIP's, a well known group that released a few records on the Aragon label.
The Centaurs' first concert was on February 5 at the Renfrew Park Teen Club, backing up Toronto singer Joey Preston, who was on tour promoting his new record "Pretty Little Girl" on ATCA records. Just after this performance, Don left the group and singer Ron Williams joined, having just moved to Vancouver from Saskatoon. Every day they would practice religiously for many hours in John's basement. His parents were very supportive of the band and John claims they couldn't have done it without them.
All the band members took great pride in their wardrobe, dressing in the latest 'mod' styles, with black turtle necks and matching copper tone Jackets.
Their first regular concerts were held at Gassy Jack's Discotheque in Richmond, a newly opened dance club run by brothers Jeff and Peter Barnett. The Centaurs played there on Fridays and Saturdays, and the gracious owners also allowed them to practice there during the week. They purchased a Volkswagen van for touring, crudely painted with grey primer. That spring, they embarked on a big tour that lasted through the summer, across British Columbia and into the Okanagan (B.C. interior) to places like Penticton, Enderby, Armstrong, Salmon Arm, the Caribou region, and up north to Williams Lake and Prince George. In the last week of August, they played in a fierce competition at a massive 6 day Battle of the Bands in Armstrong, with dozens of other bands. With their popularity growing rapidly, the band quickly became hot and in demand at Vancouver's top clubs and venues such as The Grooveyard and Oil Can Harry's as well as regular bookings at Club a-go-go in Boundary Bay just outside the city. Douglas Miller was a part owner of The Grooveyard, and was immediately impressed with them. He said he'd never seen a local group get so much applause before. He became their manager and booked them through Les Vogt's Jaguar Enterprises, who handled most of the big acts in town. Vancouver was a heavy R&B town at that time, and Les's agency catered mostly to that style, which often meant less bookings for The Centaurs.
Ed Karyl at CFUN Radio offered them some promotional concerts through the Station. One of them was at the Cascades Drive-in as part of a promotion for the movie 'The Girls On The Beach', released in May 1965, with The Centaurs opening for the film. They also played at The Kitsilano Showboat (an outdoor stage resembling a boat on the beach) to a crowd so big that when Al West arrived late he couldn't get through the massive crowd, so he had to come in by boat in order to reach the stage! The Centaurs kept up with the fashion, gradually progressing into a more stylish and colorful wardrobe. Mad Mel, a brief CFUN radio jock reputed for his friendship with The Beatles, came to Vancouver from down-under and opened a store called 'The Bad Boys Ragge Shop' which sold specialty clothing geared towards the mod crowd. John was a frequent visitor, and bought a unique jacket of which only 2 were ever made - James Brown bought the other one when he was in town. Ron also bought custom red velvet & corduroy jumpsuits that he wore on stage.
It had become obvious to the group that if they wanted to make it big they would have to leave town. Vancouver seemed to be stuck in it's groove with the local scene focused mainly on R&B acts and they really felt they weren't getting the attention they needed. They had to make a bold move, and considered going to the States, but there was always the risk of being drafted. John had some family and connections in Germany, so instead they decided to plan a German tour for the fall of 1966.