Highwoods fiddlers Walt Koken and Bob Potts moved to the Ithaca, NY area in 1972, and Mac Benford followed in 1973. These three had played together in the Bay Area as Fat City. In Ithaca they added bass player Jenny Cleland and guitarist Doug Dorschug. With a driving rhythm section – string bass was an unusual addition to an old-time band at the time – two fiddlers playing complementary styles and a banjo player picking out fiddler lines, the Highwoods had a potent, original sound.
In 1973 Danny Kornblum convinced John Specker to move from the Catskills to Ithaca and the two fiddlers formed the Correctone String Band. Specker grew up listening to Elvis, Chuck Berry, and the blues and preferred the Holy Modal Rounders to New Lost City Ramblers. The Correctones included Timmy Brown, who played the harmonica as if it were a button accordion, and John Hayward, who was able to plays runs of notes on a wash-tub bass.
As children in the 1970s Jeb and Jordan Puryear, Richie Stearns, and Shane Lamphier (the future members of Bubba George) went to Kosmos, the Trumansburg vegetarian restaurant to listen to the Correctone String Band. Specker took them under his wing, and they ended up down at the same southern fiddle conventions.
“The Correctones had an impact,” said John Hoffmann, “but they weren’t touring like the Highwoods.” The Correctone impact would be local. The band ended in 1976, and then the Highwoods ended in 1978. Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus arrived in Ithaca in 1978. They convinced Hoffmann and then John Hayward to join them in the Tompkins County Horse Flies. Mac Benford had started up his Backwoods All-stars. Bubba George was in the process of synthesizing the influence of the Highwoods and Correctone approaches into the “Ithaca sound.”
“The Highwoods were not too responsible for that,” insisted Benford. “[The Ithaca sound] has a heavier backbeat and the style of bowing is mostly from John Specker.”
Hyman will have none of that. “The origin of the Ithaca sound is in the ‘flutter bowing’ of the Highwoods sound,” she said. “They were the beginning of the sound and then John Specker ‘islandized’ it.” The Correctones were influenced by the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence and weren’t above adding a conga to their sound, which was outrageous stuff in the ‘70s.