Ian McDonald, the British multi-instrumentalist, was in the shadows even when he was in the spotlight. He co-founded two seminal rock bands, but most rock fans only heard of him when he passed away on February 9, 2022. McDonald did his speaking with his playing.
Ian McDonald, along with Greg Lake, Robert Fripp and Michael Giles recorded the debut King Crimson album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969). McDonald co-wrote all of the album’s songs, co-produced, and provided keyboards, clarinet, flute and sax.
McDonald was one of the first to use the Mellotron which produced spacey, orchestral sounds on a keyboard. One of my favorite songs from the album is “I Talk to the Wind”. Progressive-rock would not be the same McDonald had not joined King Crimson (sorry for the double negative). Not just the sound, but the song structure of prog-rock benefitted from McDonald’s haunting, adventurous soundscape.
“When I had the idea of forming Foreigner, Ian McDonald was among the first I turned to. He was and always will be a giant on the English progressive rock scene. He was a musician of great substance and versatility. It was a real thrill to work with him then and again at more recent Foreigner concerts. He will be sadly missed.” – Mick Jones, Foreigner guitarist/founder
After leaving King Crimson, McDonald and drummer Michael Giles recorded an album together, McDonald & Giles. This progressive rock effort maybe did not live up to expectations, but it’s no less than the second King Crimson album, which had some material from McDonald. Sadly, this was the only album from the McDonald and Giles duo.
McDonald played a variety of sessions including the saxophone on T. Rex’s iconic “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”.
“I used to say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have left Crimson when I did.’ But I don’t think that way anymore. I believe that was meant to be, because many wonderful things happened as a result of me doing that.” – Ian McDonald
In the mid 1970s, McDonald co-founded the English-American rock band, Foreigner. The six-piece band scored a number of hits such as “Cold as Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time” from their debut album, Foreigner. The follow-up album, Double Vision, was even more impressive with the title track, “Hot Blooded” and “Blue Morning, Blue Day”. Hot Blooded is the band’s best overall album. Head Games followed and although it sold in the millions, it feels like a weaker effort. McDonald, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi were fired from the band. Years later, McDonald and other original members would guest with band on the 40th-anniversary tour.
In 1999, McDonald released a solo album, Drivers Eyes, with the help of Michael Giles, John Wetton, Lou Gramm, Steve Hackett, Peter Frampton and others.
Drivers Eyes is a very fine set of songs, but it was sadly passed over. It’s a jazz-rock, progressive-rock, mix of music. These songs would have fit nicely on early Foreigner albums.
More recently, McDonald teamed with Ted Zurkowski in the band, Honey West.