Archive for the ‘Correctone String Band’ Category

A History Lesson

December 30, 2012


Correctone String Band


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.

Correctone String Band

August 8, 2012
By Bill Chaisson (

Fiddler John Specker came to Ithaca in 1973 after fiddler Danny Kornblum sought him out in the Catskills, where he was making an effort to farm. Together with Cornell student Bruce Molsky on banjo, Timmy Brown on harmonica, John Hayward on wash-tub bass, and Jim Wexler on guitar, the two fiddlers formed the Correctone Stringband.

The Highwood Stringband was already living in the Ithaca area, and Specker was in awe of them. “The Highwoods were the Lewis & Clark of the city kids who played old-time,” he said. “The alternative was the eggheads like the New Lost City Ramblers.” While Mike Seeger’s played in a style that was less sanitized than that of the Weavers, of which his older half-brother Pete was a member, the New Lost City Ramblers style – forged in 1958 – seemed to a younger generation to miss the point of the mountain music: it was a hell of a lot of fun.

The Correctone Stringband proved to be a crucial link in the chain of being that became “the Ithaca old-time sound.” The Highwood Stringband brought the hell-for-leather style to Ithaca from the Bay Area, and they found a receptive audience in the hippies who become the Correctones. In the wild simplicity of the Appalachian music they heard one of the sources of the rock and roll attitude.

Specker had been moving toward the mountains for a long time. He started in Astoria, Queens. “Our oldest brother Peter got the rest of us into music,” he said. “He had this little fold-out record player and he brought home everything: doo-wop, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the blues, and Dylan. At an early age I developed an RBA, a rural black attitude.”

He picked up the violin at 13 as part of mandatory school orchestra class. “I took outside lessons until I was 15,” Specker said, “which was when Dylan went electric.”

Three years later as a student at was then the Philadelphia College of Art in 1968, Specker took up the guitar. “I fell in love with Doc Watson, like a lot of people,” he said, “but everybody played the guitar, so I figured if you want to hook up with a female, you need something different.” That’s when he heard “that hillbilly music,” specifically the song “Old Dan Tucker.”

Appalachian culture was often satirized on television, in the movies and in cartoons. In the mid- to late 1960s the original 78 RPM records made in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s were reissued in compilations in 12-inch LP format. “I was looking for trance music,” said Specker.

In addition to the reissued music, Specker was captivated by the Holy Modal Rounders combination of old-time and psychedelia. “They were right up my alley,” he said. Specker dropped out of college after his third year and went to Great Britain, spending several months in Newcastle, where he met members of the British folk revival, including Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and the High Level Ranters.

“And then [the Band’s] Music From the Big Pink made all the hippies want to move to the country,” he recalled. He left a job as a maintenance man at the Frick Museum and moved to a house in the Catskills that his family had used as a summer home for many years.

During his years with the Correctone Stringband in Ithaca, Specker began to develop his distinctive style of playing, which is rife with double and triple stops and includes a certain amount of footstomping. Although he was playing a wash-tub, Hayward (who would go on to play bass with the Horse Flies) was executing complicated runs of single notes. Brown eventually added mandolin to his harmonica contributions. “He played like an Irish guy,” said Specker of Brown’s rapid-fire harmonica style, which does in fact resemble button accordion playing. All this plus the twin fiddles of Specker and Kornblum, and sustained commitment to having a good time, meant that the Correctones were following the lead of the Highwoods, but adding distinctive twists.

They recorded an album, Black Eyed Suzie, in 1976 with Phil Shapiro producing, but broke up later that year. At loose ends, Specker spent 1977 living with the Puryears and then moved to Vermont to pick apples.There he met and married Susan Leader, a potter.

See previous John Specker post and listen to the Correctones’ classic version of “Black Eyed Suzie.”