Ian McDonald Obituary | pop and rock

Even in a year shockingly overloaded with some of the most famous albums in rock history – Who’s Tommy, Blind Faith, The Stones’ Let It Bleed, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin II and many more – In the Court of the Crimson King has been hailed as a phenomenon. Released on Island Records in October 1969, King Crimson’s debut album was a boldly panoramic blend of hard rock, epic ballads, mystical acoustic atmospheres and gritty free jazz. As progressive rock historian Paul Stump has postulated: “If progressive rock as a distinct genre can be said to have had a starting point, In the Court of the Crimson King probably does.”

Guitarist Robert Fripp became the band’s best-known member, but multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, who died of cancer at the age of 75, was a galvanizing force in the band’s powerful mix. He co-wrote every track on the album, and his spirited saxophone solo was a highlight of the album’s opener, 21st Century Schizoid Man. The raging middle section of the song was essentially a piece called Three Score and Four, which he had composed for the army band he had played with during his military service. “This whole section is mine that I took from that score that I had written,” he said.

It was also at the request of McDonald’s that King Crimson acquired a Mellotron sampling keyboard, capable of playing different sounds assigned to its different keys. This became part of the King Crimson sound, most notably on the album’s 10-minute title track (it originally had a country and western style tune written by Pete Sinfield, but McDonald replaced it with his own impressive melodic creation). Despite the group’s dark and heavy image, McDonald insisted, “It was fun! It’s done with a lot of humor. »

King Crimson in 1969, with (left to right) Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, McDonald and Peter Sinfield. Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Crimson’s dramatic debut was preceded by their supporting role at the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park in July 1969 in front of a crowd of 500,000, where McDonald’s saxophone solo in 21st Century Schizoid Man earned him a standing ovation. , and when they toured the United States later that year, they enjoyed a wave of critical acclaim. However, McDonald and drummer Michael Giles grew unhappy with the band’s increasingly experimental leanings and left in December 1969. The duo released the album McDonald and Giles (1970), then subsequently split up .

McDonald played on a variety of sessions, including adding baritone saxophone to the top UK chart of T Rex Get It On (1971). He also did production work with Darryl Way’s Wolf and played sax on a few tracks on King Crimson’s album Red (1974). In 1975 he produced Modern Masquerades by Irish progressives Fruupp and Night On Bald Mountain by Fireballet.

Then the big moment came knocking again. McDonald had moved to New York, and in 1976 he was recruited by another British expat, Mick Jones, to join his new band Foreigner. Their debut album was released the following year, sold five million copies in the United States alone and spawned a trio of hit singles, Feels Like the First Time, Cold as Ice and Long, Long. Way from Home, with McDonald co-authoring the last one. The band quickly became one of the biggest bands of the era, rising to No. 3 on the US chart with their second album, Double Vision (1978), another multimillion-dollar seller who produced big hits with Hot Blooded and its title song.

McDonald playing with Foreigner, 1978
McDonald playing with Foreigner, 1978 Photography: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

In June 1978, McDonald again found himself on a bill with the Stones when Foreigner opened for them at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Head Games (1979), like its two McDonald’s co-produced predecessors, went to US number 5 and scored Top 20 hits with the title track and Dirty White Boy. However, Jones now decided the band needed to review their musical direction and fired McDonald and another original member, Al Greenwood. “Mick wanted to cut the group down to four, so that’s what happened,” McDonald observed. “I didn’t make the cut.”

He was born in Osterley, Middlesex, into a musical family which encouraged his interest in a range of styles, from classical to jazz and rock’n’roll. He taught himself the guitar, then later switched to wind instruments, including the flute and the saxophone. He spent five years in the British Army, where he played clarinet in a military band. As he said in a 2019 interview with online magazine Paste, “I loved the well-written, well-acted, smart music, and I hope it faded a bit.” He added that he makes it a point to listen to a Steely Dan album every day.

After leaving the army he moved to London, and one of his first musical partners was singer Judy Dyble, later of Fairport Convention. He later teamed up with Fripp, Michael Giles and Giles’ bassist brother Peter, who called themselves Giles, Giles and Fripp, although a disagreement over their musical direction prompted them to part ways in mid-1968. . With the addition of Sinfield and bassist/vocalist Greg Lake, and the subtraction of Peter Giles, the original King Crimson was formed later that year.

In 1996 McDonald played on former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited album and toured with him as well, in gigs which included a version of In the Court of the Crimson King. The same year, McDonald played flute on Nothing Is Easy, from the Jethro Tull tribute album To Cry You a Song – A Collection of Tull Tales.

In 2002 he joined various King Crimson veterans in the 21st Century Schizoid Band, which played material from early Crimson albums, and in 2009 McDonald and Fripp both appeared on Dyble’s album Talking With Strangers . He released the solo albums Drivers Eyes (1999) and Take Five Steps (2019). With the band Honey West, featuring McDonald alongside musician and actor Ted Zurkowski and with his son Maxwell McDonald on bass, he recorded Bad Old World (2017). He appeared with Foreigner for several 40th anniversary shows in 2017.

He features in Toby Amies’ new documentary In the Court of the Crimson King, which traces the story of King Crimson and will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2022.

Ian McDonald, musician, composer and producer, born June 25, 1946; passed away on February 9, 2022

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