Ian McDonald, King Crimson and Foreigner Founding Member, Dies
McDonald’s death was confirmed via press release, which noted that the rocker “passed away peacefully on February 9, 2022 in his home in New York City, surrounded by his family.”
McDonald co-founded King Crimson in 1968, alongside Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake and lyricist Peter Sinfield. The famed prog-rock group’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was released in 1969. McDonald’s fingerprints were all over the LP, with saxophone, flute, clarinet, Mellotron, harpsichord, piano, organ, vibraphone, backing vocals and production among his contributions.
“When we made it -- and I was basically at the forefront of the production -- I wanted to make sure if I could deliver everything that went into the record would bear repeated listening and hopefully stand the test of time,” McDonald recalled during a 2019 interview with UCR.
”Those early shows were fantastic,” he continued, looking back at King Crimson’s beginnings. “They were a mixture of arranged songs and group improvisations. One of the songs, [Donovan’s] 'Get Thy Bearings,' was a vehicle for improvisation. ... They could be quite adventurous, quite wild sometimes. And the arranged songs such as 'The Court of the Crimson King' and 'Epitaph,' were more structured. Speaking of 'Epitaph,' I think that's my favorite successful song in terms of the writing and structure and production and everything else.”
The multi-instrumentalist departed the band following their first U.S. tour. The final performance to feature King Crimson’s original lineup took place at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on Dec. 16, 1969.
“I used to say, ‘Oh, I shouldn't have left Crimson when I did.’ But I don't think that way anymore,” the rocker admitted to UCR. “I believe that was meant to be, because many wonderful things happened as a result of me doing that. Perhaps I should have stayed for the second album [In the Wake of Poseidon], but then things would've been different in my life and so on. But you can't change history like that. So I accept where I am and the journey that I've been on since leaving Crimson.”
Years later, McDonald would help launch another legendary act, Foreigner. The band’s initial lineup included guitarist Mick Jones, singer Lou Gramm, drummer Dennis Elliott, keyboardist Al Greenwood and bassist Ed Gagliardi, with McDonald providing rhythm guitar, woodwinds and additional keyboard. The multi-instrumentalist’s tenure lasted until 1980 and included three hugely successful, multi-platinum LPs: Foreigner, Double Vision and Head Games. “Feels Like the First Time”, “Cold As Ice”, “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision” are just some of the classic tracks which featured McDonald’s playing, while the rocker also co-wrote several of the band’s deeper album cuts.
Decades later, McDonald participated in sporadic reunions featuring Foreigner’s surviving original members in 2017 and 2018, an experience he later admitted “felt really good.”
Even when not enlisted in a band’s official lineup, McDonald proved to be an in-demand session musician. T. Rex, Steve Hackett and Asia are just some of the acts with whom he collaborated over the course of his long and impressive career.