Ian McDonald, Co-Founder of Foreigner and King Crimson, Dies at 75: 'Brilliant, Intuitive Musician'

Ian McDonald played on Foreigner's first three albums, and on hits like "Feels Like the First Time"

Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald. Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Ian McDonald, the multi-instrumentalist rocker who was a founding member of both Foreigner and King Crimson, has died. He was 75.

McDonald died on Wednesday at his home in New York City, surrounded by family, his rep told Rolling Stone.

The musician's son Max wrote on Facebook that his father died of cancer, according to King Crimson's record label Discipline Global Mobile.

"He was incredibly brave, and never lost his kindness or his sense of humor even when the going was rough," he wrote. "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."

McDonald, a London native, spent five years in the British Army, where he learned to read music and play the clarinet, saxophone and flute as a bandsman.

He also sang, produced and played keyboards and guitar, and joined forces with Michael Giles, Robert Fripp, Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield to create King Crimson in 1969.

Though McDonald only stuck around for the band's self-produced debut album In the Court of the Crimson King, he was highly influential in the sound and legacy of the record, which was named the second-greatest progressive rock album of all time by Rolling Stone in 2015.

He also played the band's famous Hyde Park show in July 1969, with Crimson roadie Richard "Vick" Vickers telling Rolling Stone: "The high point of that gig was the whole audience rising to their feet as one and cheering Ian McDonald's solo during 'Schizoid [Man].' I remember the hairs on the back of my neck rising as the roar from this huge crowd went up."

After his departure, McDonald went on to co-found Foreigner in 1976 with guitarist Mick Jones and singer Lou Gramm.

He played on and co-produced the band's first three albums, all of which cracked the Top 10, and which spawned hit singles like "Feels Like the First Time," "Hot Blooded," "Double Vision" and "Head Games."

McDonald reflected on his ousting from the group in a 1999 interview, saying that Jones and Gramm decided "they wanted to be the focus of the band."

"Mick wanted to make it more apparent that it was his group, so he decided to make a smaller group. That was his decision. I wouldn't have left — I loved the group, it was not my decision," McDonald said. "I had a lot to do with the making of those records and the arrangements and the creating of those songs, more than is probably apparent. I did a lot that went uncredited, which I was happy to do though. When you're in a group you must contribute as much as you can. I was happy to do that. But as I said, it maybe didn't appear that I was doing as much as I in fact was. I had a lot to do with that group... as well as... Mick Jones, obviously, and everyone else — I'm not trying to take all the credit, but I'm just saying that I was there, I was involved, and I loved it."

Still, by the late 2010s, any bad blood had cleared, as McDonald appeared live with Foreigner from 2017 to 2019, according to RS.

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