McDonald’s impact on modern music is immense, but his name is little known outside aficionado circles. Sid Smith pays tribute:
The death of Ian McDonald from cancer in his beloved New York is the closing chapter on a remarkable career. Having been a crucial factor in the formation and subsequent success of King Crimson in 1969, and thereby close to the epicentre of the progressive rock movement, in 1976 he reinvented himself upon emigrating to the USA to co-found AOR rockers, Foreigner. For some, the juxtaposition of those two polar opposite bands seemed wildly incompatible. As far as McDonald was concerned, uninterested in any tribal or generic considerations, it was simply all about music.
In assessing the qualities of the founding members of King Crimson, Robert Fripp once observed that what Ian brought to the table was “musicality, an exceptional sense of the short and telling melodic line, and the ability to express that on a variety of instruments.”
King Crimson’s debut album is filled with McDonald’s multi-instrumental presence on flute, saxes, woodwind, vibraphone, various keyboards, and of course, arguably the album’s signature sound, the Mellotron.
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A gentle, sensitive man and never one to brag or boast about his considerable instrumental abilities or musical achievements he was nevertheless rightly proud of his contributions. I recently asked him about the making of that totemic Crimson debut. “One of the things I’ve always done when I’m recording a song is I ask myself, ‘Could I listen to this 500 times?’ So you have to be honest with yourself when you are making a record. All the while in the studio when we were recording the album I was thinking, ‘Will I still want to listen to this in 50 years’ time.’ So part of me was thinking 50 years ahead if you like.”
The thought that people will still be listening to his music for another 50 years and beyond, is something that would have pleased Ian enormously.
There’s more at the link.
There’s really only one track I can play this morning, isn’t there? McDonald initially composed this piece as a country-and-western-style track, but found it simply didn’t work. When King Crimson was formed, he re-imagined it in progressive rock style, playing most of its non-guitar instruments and adding backing vocals. The result is music legend. I remember when that debut album came out. Almost everyone I know wore out their LP records on this final track and had to replace them, with the first four tracks relatively unplayed!
Rest in peace, Mr. McDonald. Your music will outlive you.