An interview with
Marshall Blonstein

By Beppe Colli
May 19, 2017

Releasing four albums of polychromatic beauty, rich with inventive, unconventional music, performed with great skill - I'm talking about those albums released by the group's original line-up: Spirit and The Family That Plays Together, released in 1968; Clear, released in 1969; Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus, released in 1970 - was not enough to catapult Spirit beyond the proverbial "cult group" status.

Due to reasons one can investigate, but which will not give an explanation one can regard with any degree of certainty, Spirit were not as successful as The Doors, but didn't enjoy the "big cult status" of Arthur Lee's Love, either.

The group's albums, however, have rarely been "out of print", with multiple versions of variable quality being available.

Recently, Audio Fidelity announced they will release Spirit's first four albums in SACD format - first two albums are about to be released, with the other two to follow - which could prove to be the definitive word when it comes to Spirit.

Happy coincidence, Audio Fidelity's President, Marshall Blonstein, knew Spirit personally. So I asked for an interview.

With a long career in the music and entertainment industry, Marshall Blonstein was President of Island Records, also founder and President of audiophile labels DCC Compact Classics and Audio Fidelity.

Our conversation was conducted via e-mail.

On the back cover of Spirit's first album, you are mentioned - alongside Terry Clements and Doug Wallack - under "assisted by". Could you please describe your role on the album?

I really had none other than I accompanied them to different gigs around LA.

I'd like to know how you became acquainted with the group.

Lou Adler asked me to go check them out at a small club in Hollywood. They were playing 3 sets a night making $25 each. I reported back to Lou, there was something special about the group.

While the album's back cover shows the group's individual members, the iconic image on the front cover showcases - forgive the pun - the group's spirit. Were Spirit really a whole?

Initially the group worked perfectly together. They were a great combination of Jazz, Psychedelic Rock and a drummer that banged those skins. After they became somewhat more successful the bickering started and that led to the break-up of the group.

I've seen pictures of the group playing in such clubs as the Ash Grove and the Scene. Could you describe "the scene" at the time?

Both these clubs were very small and very funky. The great thing about both clubs were that people came to listen.

The Doors had a colossal hit, and a charismatic front man. Arthur Lee didn't like to travel, so condemning his group, Love, to national obscurity. What's your take on the reason(s) why Spirit didn't raise above "cult status"?

Spirit's music was really made for albums unlike The Doors or Arthur Lee they never had that hit single.

On the first album, songs like Fresh Garbage and Topanga Windows obviously resonated with the times. Do you think those topics could resonate with today's audiences?

I think the topics would resonate but it would be very difficult to get airplay. FM radio was at one time free form and open to songs like Fresh Garbage, not today. There are plenty of songs about the environment etc.

On the back cover of the group's second album, The Family That Plays Together, you are credited under "additional dialogue", which I assume to be the card game - poker? - that's part of the soundscape in Silky Sam. Would you elaborate?

Jay Ferguson wrote the song Silky Sam about me. I was at the recording studio when Lou was recording this track and he asked me to go into the studio and play a couple of hands of poker with the guys which he used in the break of the song.

The album sports two of the group's signature songs: opening track I Got A Line On You - the group's only semi-hit - and closing track Aren't You Glad. Your take on them?

I always felt that I Got A Line On You was their only real commercial shot at a hit single. But Aren't You Glad really showcased all their musical talent.

I'd like to know if you were still involved with the group after their second album.

No, not really. I had moved on and became more involved with Columbia CBS moving to Chicago from LA. That's when the squabbling started.

Do you think that Spirit's first four albums, as released on Audio Fidelity, will resonate with both "old-time connoisseurs" and "newcomers" alike?

I certainly hope so.

Beppe Colli 2017 | May 19, 2017