As the above flyer handily demonstrates, the band known as Centaura barely eked their way into history. Not only an opening act, but one forced to handwrite their name on the showbill. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, as Centaura existed in one form or another for around a decade. However, it’s hard to exaggerate how overlooked this Birmingham, Alabama ensemble has heretofore been. Starting off as Salt & Pepper at the John Carroll High School in Birmingham, they became the house band of fraternity Phi Cho Rho. Made up of marching band members, they naturally leaned towards the horn rock sounds of the day. As drummer and leader Jesse Daniels kept the group alive through several incarnations during the mid-1970s, his group came to be known as Centaura, his own nickname for himself. The group slowly took form, including Billy Tabb and Danny Williams on guitar, Willie Moore on bass, Phillip Waites and Yolanda Graham on vocals, Andrew Miles on trumpet, Kwune Gratton on alto, and Carlos Kyle on tenor, joined the ranks. They maintained low-level gigs, occasionally touring regionally with local acts like David Sea.
The colorful transitions sweeping late 1970s soul music weren’t just the sounds of changing times, but of a struggle for survival. Club deejays were scabbing the livelihoods of self-contained bands nationwide. Some acts simply vanished, others looked for any recording business inroad. Centaura’s sole LP (and any group from the time should be so lucky to have a full length release) was issued in a strange, yet alluring format: a minimally-designed custom jacket, whose center hole was the only way to identify what music was contained within. The “Spiral Series” was part put-on, part hustle – but for Birmingham, Alabama’s Centaura, it was a stroke of luck. Recorded in 1978, Lawdy Lawdy Lawd is a long-playing El Dorado of funk, disco, boogie, and post-Muscle Shoals deep balladry that would never have existed without the extreme penny pinching of their manager, hillbilly impresario Bob Riley. The cover was mass-produced for a whole series of releases… though none but the mysterious Centaura ever appeared in modern times (if by appeared you mean two known copies hoarded by elite collectors.) Now this rarified document is available to all.
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