Ian McDonald, King Crimson and Foreigner Co-Founder, Dies at 75

Multi-instrumentalist of the prog rock bands and session musician had been battling cancer

Foreigner Ian McDonald
Foreigner: Lou Gramm, Ian McDonald, Al Greenwood, Mick Jones, Dennis Elliot (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ian McDonald, a multi-instrumentalist and progressive rock pioneer who co-founded the bands King Crimson in the late ’60s and then Foreigner in the ’70s, has died. He was 75.

A rep for McDonald said that he died on Wednesday peacefully in his home in New York City, while surrounded by his family. His son Maxwell additionally announced on social media that he had been suffering from cancer.

McDonald was well known as a session musician, most notably for his work as a saxophone player, but also for his skills on flute, keyboard, vibraphone and guitar. You can hear him wail on alto sax in the opening notes to King Crimson’s 1969 debut album and opening track “21st Century Schizoid Man.” And he also guested as a musician on T. Rex’s recording of their big hit “Get It On (Bang a Gong).”

McDonald was born in Middlesex, England and had classical music training, but in 1969 was among the initial lineup of King Crimson alongside Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield. Their debut “In the Court of the Crimson King” remains their most successful album and combined jazz, rock and experimental music to help pioneer the prog rock sound. He would depart the band with Giles after the first album but briefly rejoined in 1974.

His follow-up act would be as a founding member of British hard rock band Foreigner alongside guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones, where he served as a woodwinds and keys player in addition to guitar. And his contributions and even his vocals can be heard on the band’s first three albums, all of which cracked the Top 10 on the rock charts.

In 1999, McDonald released a solo album titled “Driver’s Eyes,” and he would reunite with some members of King Crimson for the 21st Century Schizoid Band in the early 2000s when interest in the band picked up again. Some of his other contributions have come on albums by Judy Dyble, Third International, Spooky Tooth and more.