Archive for the ‘John Specker’ Category

“Mary Ann”

April 28, 2013

John Specker of Andover, VT plays Roaring Lion’s “Mary Ann”:

edited from Kaiso Newsletter No. 25 – July 14, 1999:

Mary Ann was composed by Roaring Lion (born Rafael de Leon, 22 February 1908 – 11 July 1999).   Roaring Lion was a  calypsonian from Trinidad whose 65-year career began in the early 1930s. Lion stated that he composed the song during an all day party on Carenage Beach on St Peter’s Day in 1941 but that it only came to light in 1945.

In Trinidad, Mary Ann was especially popular for VE and VJ Day celebrations where Carnival, which had been banned during the war years, was suddenly given free reign.  Mary Ann went on to become one of the most well known of all calypsos and the folk group Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders had a popular hit in the United States with their ‘adaption’ of it in 1957.

The Roaring Lion started appearing in the calypso tents in Port-of-Spain in the late Twenties, although the exact year is not clear. He was always impeccably dressed and known for his lion headed cane, he was a strong singer, and was recognized as a composer of all the major styles of calypso. Respected as an ‘experimentalist’ in calypso, he could write calypsos on any theme and while never crowned a calypso monarch, he was one of its greatest practitioners.   He was originally known as Lion Flaps but that was dropped as he found more success and he became Roaring Lion.


Fathers and Daughters

March 16, 2013

Video: Rayna and Dan Gellert play “Old Mose.”



Clelia and Rafe Stefanini

Clelia and Rafe Stefanini play “Poplar Bluff” (from Lady on the Green):


The Speckers:  John Specker, Lila Specker, and Ida Mae Specker play “In the Pines” (from “The Speckers: Volume 1”): 

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.”

John Specker

March 8, 2012

edited from,, and

John Specker (b. 1950) was born in Callicoon Depot, New York. He grew up in Astoria (Queens), New York spending summers on his family’s ancestral farm in the Catskills. At age 13 John began violin lessons. He would carry his instrument to and from his lessons in a guitar case so his peers would not mock him for playing the violin. John graduated from high school and attended Philadelphia College of Art. While attending P.C.A. he heard fiddle music for the first time. Before this he had never heard anything other than classical music on the violin.  As a sophomore, he got the notion to get out his violin again, this time to play old time music.  John dropped out of college at age 19 to play fiddle music.

From 1974 to 1977, Specker played with The Correctones in Ithaca, NY.  Correctone fiddler Danny Kornblum writes of that time, “We wanted to take ourselves and our dancing friends to another level where the droning buzz of the fiddle and the chunk of the Banjo…hung in the air like a ball of fire. We played into that fire to make it grow and burn brighter.”

Even when John’s daughters Lila and Ida Mae were babies, in a household isolated in the woods, John continued to hone his art. Always, at every available moment throughout the day and night, he fiddled and sang in his gritty, passionate baritone voice. In an unpremeditated feat of magic, he was tutoring his future dream band of a lifetime. As the two small girls nestled to sleep each night in the family’s drafty one room cabin, the floor joists vibrated to their Papa’s fiddle and banjo tunes. The two curlyheads absorbed their musical heritage painlessly, feeling it as just another evening breeze.

The Girls, now 26 and 23, have been on the road with John for several years now, touring as The Speckers.

John lives in Andover, Vermont.

John Specker and The Correctones play “Black Eyed Suzie”: