Ian McDonald, a multi-instrumentalist who was part of the founding lineups of the art-rock group King Crimson in the late 1960s and the more commercial Foreigner in the mid-’70s, died Wednesday at age 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 he 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.
With King Crimson, McDonald played keyboard and woodwinds, and added guitar to his performing repertoire when he was part of the startup lineup for Foreigner’s first three albums. “Because I didn’t play guitar at all on the ‘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.”
McDonald only stayed with King Crimson for one album, the group’s 1969 debut “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 thelosangelesbeat.com. “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.”
Talking about that debut album’s endurance, he said, “Without sounding conceited… in one sense it doesn’t surprise me because one thing I tried to do as the main producer was be very careful to have every moment be able to be listened to hundreds of times, so that hopefully the album would withstand the test of time. Here we are 50 years later, and people are still talking about it.”
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 played with the straight-ahead New York rock band Honey West, with frontman Ted Zurkowski.
McDonald is survived by his son, Maxwell McDonald.