Ian McDonald, Multi-Instrumental Co-Founder Of King Crimson & Foreigner, Dies At 75

The much-respected musician “passed away peacefully” surrounded by family at his home in New York City.

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Ian McDonald (with saxophone, third left), with Roy Wood, Steve Howe and Tom Petersson - Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, who was involved with the founding lineups of the art-rock group King Crimson in the late 1960s and the mainstream Anglo-American rock outfit Foreigner in the mid-’70s, died on Wednesday, February 9, at the age of 75. No cause of death was immediately given but a spokesperson said he “passed away peacefully” surrounded by family at his home in New York City.

Among the hits McDonald played on were such platinum Foreigner radio staples as “Hot Blooded,” “Cold as Ice,” “Feels Like the First Time” and “Double Vision.”

“I’m quite proud of the fact that the two bands I was a founding member of, King Crimson and Foreigner, are still out there playing,” McDonald said in a 2020 interview with Sound & Vision, even though he had little interest in reunions or rejoining the current iterations of those groups. McDonald, original Foreigner singer Lou Gramm and some other original members did come back together to play some 40th anniversary shows commemorating the 40th anniversary of that band’s 1977 debut.

Ian McDonald played keyboard and woodwinds with King Crimson, and added guitar to his performing repertoire when he was part of the initial iteration for Foreigner’s first three albums. “Because I didn’t play guitar at all on [1969 debut] In the Court of the Crimson King album, sometimes, people are surprised that I do play guitar,” he told Sound & Vision. “Songs like “The Court of the Crimson King” and “I Talk to the Wind” were actually composed on guitar, but I don’t have a guitar credit on the album since I didn’t play guitar on the album.”

King Crimson - Epitaph (Including "March For No Reason" and "Tomorrow And Tomorrow")

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“When we made [In The Court Of The Crimson King] – 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 Ultimate Classic Rock.

”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.”

McDonald left King Crimson after In the Court of the Crimson King, but was considered instrumental in establishing the prog-rock sound that still had iterations of the band surviving a half-century later.

“I used to have regrets about that, and that I should have stayed at least through the second album,” McDonald said about leaving the group in a 2019 interview with The Los Angeles Beat.

“But now I don’t regret it because had I stayed, things would have turned out very differently for me up until this moment… I’m very happy with the way things have played out since then.” Of the band’s serious image, McDonald said, “It was fun! It was done with a tremendous amount of humor. The image of King Crimson is sort of this monstrous band, but it was so much fun! We were just having a laugh.”

Ian McDonald went on to 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.

McDonald also served as a session musician, appearing on T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” in between his Crimson and Foreigner stints, among other recordings.

In recent years, McDonald had continued to make music,  playing with the straight-ahead New York rock band Honey West, with frontman Ted Zurkowski.

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