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Ian McDonald, co-founder of King Crimson and Foreigner, dies aged 75

Ian McDonald
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Ian McDonald, co-founder of prog rock institution King Crimson and arena rock stalwarts Foreigner, has died, aged 75.

McDonald was a musical polymath, who spent five years as a bandsman in the army before altering rock’s history in 1969, when he, guitarist Robert Fripp, drummer Michael Giles, vocalist/bassist Greg Lake and lyricist/poet Peter Sinfield formed King Crimson, giving progressive rock shape and form with their groundbreaking debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King.

Theirs was a sound like no other. McDonald’s alto sax gave the unorthodox structure of 21st Century Schizoid Man an anarchic quality that extended the possibilities of rock music. Many prog artists – not to mention metal bands – were taking note. 

But McDonald’s time in King Crimson would be be short-lived. He left soon after the album’s release, returning in 1974 to perform alto sax on the band’s seventh studio album, Red, before Fripp put the whole project on ice the following year. 

McDonald kept moving. Having released an album in 1970 with fellow Crimson alumnus, Michael Giles, McDonald played on T.Rex’s Electric Warrior, laying down saxophone on the glam-rock anthem Get It On. 

He would then go on to become a founding member of the British-American rock band Foreigner, recording the first three albums with the band, scoring classic tracks such as Cold As Ice, Hot Blooded and the evergreen Feels Like The First Time. This time putting in shifts on keyboards, flute, and electric guitar, dovetailing with Mick Jones and sharing a production credit.

In a Facebook post, Foreigner’s Al Greenwood described McDonald as “a true musical genius”.

“My bandmate and close friend Ian McDonald passed away peacefully yesterday,” wrote Greenwood. “He was like a brother to me. A true musical genius, Ian’s musicianship was an integral part of launching both King Crimson and Foreigner into legendary status. His contribution to Foreigner’s success was immense. Ian was a dear friend, a kind and wonderful man, and I will miss him terribly.”

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McDonald also collaborated with former Stories frontman Ian Lloyd, and hooked up with Steve Hackett in the ‘90s as one of the guests on Hackett’s Genesis Revisited album. He would later play saxophone on Hackett’s Darktown (1999) and To Watch The Storms (2003). 

McDonald’s son, Max, revealed on Facebook that his father had been suffering from cancer before: “He was incredibly brave, and never lost his kindness or his sense of humor even when the going was rough. My father was a brilliant, intuitive musician, a gentle soul, and a wonderful dad. He will live on forever through his beautiful music and the love of his fans. Thank you all.”

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Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.