Waiting outside The Orange Peel on a drizzly, unseasonably warm January night in Asheville, NC for a chance to interview Spafford’s new keyboardist Cory Schechtman, I’m soon greeted by the man himself. After getting locked out of a side door, he finds himself in the same situation as the dozen or so fans waiting for the doors to open at 7 p.m.

Going up to the front door, Schechtman, 36, is thrust into the awkward situation of explaining to the venue staff that he is, in fact, in the band. By the second or third time he says it, the doorman at the notoriously fickle Asheville hot spot finally relents and lets him in, meanwhile making a member of the team’s road crew wait a pivotal extra minute for the stroke of 7 p.m.

Hot off a sold-out tour opener in Charlotte the night before, Schechtman is preparing for his sixth-ever concert playing in Spafford and just his second as a full-time member of the band. Longtime Spafford keyboardist Andrew “Red” Johnson initially tapped Schecthman to sub in for him during a run of shows in September, and the lineup change became permanent soon afterward when Red decided to step away from Spafford after 11 years to spend time with his family. He played his last Spafford show on December 31st, 2022, the 11-year anniversary of his addition to the band.

Onstage at The Orange Peel, Schechtman immediately makes his presence known with the earworm synth intro to the show-opening “The Remedy”. Using his Hohner as a vessel, Schechtman joins in the deep-funk exploration Spafford is known for on “Ginger Stardust”, before landing back on solid ground for the honky-tonk piano of “Memphis In The Meantime”. Throughout the show, Schechtman’s contributions are complimentary if understated as the new guy finds his footing in the long-established brotherhood.

Spafford – The Orange Peel – Asheville, NC – 1/12/23 – Full Video

Related: Members Of Spafford Sit In With Phish Cover Band In Asheville [Video]

Backstage, the bearded man of few words is thrust into the spotlight for his first interview as Spafford’s new keyboardist. His story begins back on Massachusett’s Cape Cod where the saxophone became his first musical passion at age 10. A few years later keyboards would enter his life, a product of adolescent jam sessions.

“As I got older, I started jamming with my friends, going over to their house, and for some reason I became interested in keyboards,” Schechtman said. “I think it was just the plug-and-play of it. Of course, now my rig is very much not plug and play, but the idea of just powering up, plugging in, and being able to make some big sounds immediately without a reed and everything.”

Schechtman’s passion for music got him off the Cape and carried him 70 miles up the coast to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music. Landing at the prestigious institution right out of high school, he trained in jazz composition, with the saxophone still his primary instrument. Two years later, he left after getting what he called “the Berklee special.”

From there he cut his teeth playing sax in the reggae band Shango Ax while picking up as many gigs as he could. Through substantial gigging, he developed a propensity for the grind of learning a lot of material in a short amount of time. Temporary gigs touring with Marcus Rezak and Ike Willis honed his skills in becoming quickly familiar with vast musical catalogs ranging from the Grateful Dead to Frank Zappa. That experience would serve him well down the line.

Along the way, Schechtman co-founded The New Motif. Born out of the Cape Cod/South Bay music scene, the band’s parts have recently become more famous than their sum. In addition to Schechtman joining Spafford, bassist Dan Kelly is aboard the rocketing Boston outfit Neighbor. It’s in line with a growing trend of New England musicians farming out to jam bands looking for fresh blood, like Lotus and Twiddle picking apart Kung Fu for Tim Palmieri and Adrian Tramontano respectively.

The New Motiff just celebrated its fifth anniversary on Cinco De Mayo, and it was shortly thereafter that Schechtman first heard from Spafford.

“Well, initially when Red was in a jam last September, he wasn’t sure if he was going to need a sub or not and he was trying to get out in front of it,” Schechtman recalled. “So he said, ‘Hey, by the way, would you even be willing or interested?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ He told me the four dates. I said, ‘Yeah.’ And then pretty much the next day, he’s like, ‘Oh, I need you to do that.’ So I had two weeks or a week and a half lead time to do the four shows with them.”

Prior to the call, Schechtman had never seen Spafford in person, “but I had much respect for them and their improv, because that’s what Spafford does, and that’s what’s most important to me. I’ve always been all about just throwing it out there.”

Schechtman’s love of “throwing it out there” traces back to high school when he discovered Miles Davis‘ electric work. “That was just mayhem. … [Spafford is] a beautiful version of that. Just throwing it out there.”

The keyboardist made his debut with Spafford back on September 21st at The Homestead in Morristown, NJ. Three more shows followed throughout the Northeast including a date opening for Lotus in New Hampshire. At the time, Cory had no idea a permanent position was waiting around the corner, but his connection with Brian Moss (guitar), Jordan Fairless (bass), and Nick Tkachyk (drums) was immediate.

“And it was awesome. I couldn’t believe how well it went, honestly, and just what a bunch of such nice guys, and so smart and funny and just living good lifestyles,” Schectman said. “And I was just like, that’s pretty cool. … And then they called me a little bit later and told me what was going on.”

Fast forward four months and a half dozen shows, Schectman is already making his mark on a band that has become a staple in the jam community. From the Miles Davis-inspired jazz eclecticism, or “throwing it out there,” that drove The New Motif to his double duty on keys and sax that make him a multi-purpose tool, Spafford and Schecthman are still figuring out how to take full advantage of what he brings to the table.

“A bunch of weirdness and a lot of synthesizer stuff,” Schechtman said of what he hopes to add to the band. “I don’t really know. I haven’t thought about it. I mean, of course I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t focused on it. I’ve just been more getting the songs down, knowing that things will work out with the improv, because from that first show in September, I was like, oh, at least I could totally hang out with these guys on the stage musically, and off.”

While Spafford still keeps up a prodigious tour schedule, the pandemic placed greater emphasis on the need for equilibrium in the work-life balance. Red’s departure further exacerbated that need, and even as Schechtman steps up to the big time he is still a family man at heart. “I have a family at home and they’re everything to me so [touring] is just a shock and we’re all just taking it a day at a time,” he said of the band’s rigorous road schedule.

Even though there are lots of highway miles and plenty of late nights, Schechtman has found in Spafford a group of men committed not only to their music, but to themselves and their health. He alluded to the band members’ “good lifestyles,” going on to say of his bandmates, “They care about the right things like taking care of your body, eating right—just respecting each other and trying to get as much rest as we can and trying to utilize all the time we have even though it’s nearly impossible.”

“That’s something that’s very important to me,” Schecthman said. “[I’m] not getting any younger and that’s becoming more and more clear, and so I’m happy to be with a group of guys who are conscious of things like that: mind, body, and spirit.”

Though Schechtman’s newfound brothers accepted him long ago, he still goes out under the lights every night fighting the same battle. Through nearly 15 years of touring, Spafford has built up a devoted following that has already seen the band through a previous lineup change—Cameron Laforest took Nick’s place from 2017–2019—and just said goodbye to a foundational pillar of the group. Schechtman only asks that they give him a chance.

“Of course it’s a little strange,” Schechtman said of being the new guy. “Spafford has a really, really huge, really cool, really great fan base. So I know that there’s a lot of feelings out there, and all I can really focus on is just going up and doing the best job I can to just keep everybody happy, and just make the sounds that are going to bring it all together.

“Red hand-picked me to fill his spot in Spafford and I take this responsibility very seriously,” Schechtman concluded. “And I know it can be difficult when you have an attachment to a particular person. So I just ask to have an open mind.”

Catch Spafford on tour this winter and see Cory Schechtman in action behind the keys.