Ian McDonald, multi-instrumentalist and progressive rock pioneer who co-founded bands King Crimson in the late 60s and then Foreigner in the 70s, has died. He was 75 years old.
A representative for McDonald’s noted that he passed away peacefully at his New York home on Wednesday, surrounded by his family. His son Maxwell also announced on social media that he was suffering from cancer.
McDonald was well known as a session musician, especially for his work as a saxophonist, but also for his skills on the flute, keyboard, vibraphone and guitar. You can hear him moaning on alto sax in the opening notes of King Crimson’s 1969 debut album and opening track “21st Century Schizoid Man.” And he also guest-starred on T. Rex’s recording of their big hit “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”.
McDonald was born in Middlesex, England and trained in classical music, but in 1969 was part of the initial King Crimson lineup alongside Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield. Their debut album “In the Court of the Crimson King” remains their most successful album and combines jazz, rock and experimental music to help create the progressive rock sound. He left the group with Giles after the first album but joined briefly in 1974.
His follow-up act would be as a founding member of British hard rock band Foreigner alongside guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones, where he played woodwind and keyboard in addition to guitar. And his contributions and even his vocals can be heard on the band’s first three albums, all of which made it into the Top 10 on the rock charts.
In 1999 McDonald released a solo album titled “Driver’s Eyes”, and he reunited with some King Crimson members for the 21st Century Schizoid Band in the early 2000s when interest in the band picked up. Some of his other contributions have come on albums by Judy Dyble, Third International, Spooky Tooth and more.