Ian McDonald, Founding Member of King Crimson and Foreigner, Dies

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Photo of Ian McDonald via his family

Ian McDonald, a founding member of King Crimson and Foreigner, died on February 9, 2022) at age 75, of colon cancer. The news was shared on Thursday evening (Feb. 10) by his family, who noted that the musician passed away peacefully in his home in New York City.

McDonald’s son, Max, wrote, “He was incredibly brave, and never lost his kindness or his sense of humor even when the going was rough.”

A master multi-instrumentalist, McDonald’s musicianship was an integral part of launching celebrated progressive rock band King Crimson. His keyboard and woodwind contributions led to the breakout success of the band’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King, which is considered one of the most influential albums of the genre. McDonald co-wrote every song on the album.

Blending elements of classical, jazz, and symphonic music, The Who’s Pete Townshend called it “an uncanny masterpiece.” The band helped to jumpstart the prog era and laid the groundwork for countless others that shared the same stance: notably Emerson Lake and Palmer and Genesis.

The band featured guitarist/mastermind Robert Fripp; bassist/vocalist Greg Lake (the future “L” in ELP); flutist, keyboardist and Mellotron player McDonald; drummer Michael Giles and lyricist Peter Sinfield.

On King Crimson’s debut, a suite of sorts called “Epitaph” was plied with atmospheric ambiance thanks to Lake’s dramatic vocals and a richly arranged instrumentation, most of which came courtesy of Fripp’s unique guitar technique and McDonald’s mesh of Mellotron and woodwinds.

McDonald and the band’s drummer, Michael Giles, left King Crimson not long afterwards, following a U.S. tour. The pair subsequently released an album, McDonald and Giles.

Fripp posted a brief tribute to McDonald. “[Ian’s] contribution to the original band was invaluable and profound. Our condolences to Ian’s family.”

Related: Musicians and other celebrities we’ve lost in 2022

This ad for Foreigner’s debut album appeared in the March 19, 1977 issue of Record World

Foreigner was formed in 1976, led by British guitarist and songwriter, Mick Jones, with members from both the U.K. and America. Jones’ fellow Brits were drummer Dennis Elliott and McDonald, who played guitar as well as woodwinds and keyboard on the band’s first three albums: Foreigner, Double Vision, and Head Games. From the U.S. were singer Lou Gramm, keyboardist Al Greenwood and bass guitarist Ed Gagliardi.

Those top-selling albums all reached Platinum certification status, producing such classic rock anthems as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” and “Double Vision.” McDonald departed before the group recorded 1981’s 4, that featured the additional hits “Urgent” and “Waiting For a Girl Like You.”

The self-titled debut was released on March 8, 1977. The result was nothing short of spectacular. “Feels Like the First Time” was a rock radio smash and reached #4 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

Upon learning of McDonald’s death, Jones wrote, “When I had the idea of forming Foreigner, Ian McDonald was among the first I turned to. He was and always will be a giant on the English progressive rock scene. He was a musician of great substance and versatility. It was a real thrill to work with him then and again at more recent Foreigner concerts. He will be sadly missed.”

Related: Gramm, Greenwood and McDonald joined Foreigner’s current lineup for a much-anticipated reunion on July 20, 2017

Most recently, McDonald performed with his New York City-based band Honey West. He also played on albums from Steve Hackett and John Wetton, among others. McDonald teamed with fellow former King Crimson member Michael Giles for an acclaimed album in 1970. He also released several solo albums.

McDonald further cemented his legacy with his work as a session musician, playing saxophone, keyboards, flute, vibraphone, and guitar. He appeared on numerous recordings throughout his career, including T.Rex’s iconic “Get It On (Bang A Gong).”

Ian McDonald was born on June 25, 1946, in Middlesex, U.K. He is survived by his son Max McDonald.

Related: Our Album Rewind of King Crimson’s 1960 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King

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