Former Lou Reed keyboardist Michael Fonfara dead at age 74

Michael Fonfara, a Canadian musician who played keyboards on nearly all of Lou Reed‘s studio albums from 1974 through 1980, died Friday in a Toronto hospital after a two-year bout with cancer, according to a press statement from the Canadian band Downchild. He was 74.

The first Reed album that Fonfara contributed to was 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance, which was Lou’s highest-charting studio effort, peaking at #10 on the Billboard 200. He also played on 1975’s Coney Island Baby, 1976’s Rock and Roll Heart, 1978’s Street Hassle, 1979’s The Bells and 1980’s Growing Up in Public, the last of which he co-produced and was listed as co-writer of every song.

Fonfara also lent his keyboard talents to two songs on Foreigner‘s hugely successful 1981 album 4, including the hit “Urgent.”

Prior to working with Reed, Fonfara was a member of the bands Electric Flag and Rhinoceros, and he also played on albums by artists including The Everly Brothers and David Ackles. For the past 30-plus years, he’d been a member of the popular Canadian blues band Downchild, a group cited as one of the inspirations for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to form The Blues Brothers.

“He’s the best musician I’ve ever worked with,” Downchild leader Donnie Walsh says of Michael. Adds bassist Gary Kendall, “[W]e lost a brother, a band mate, a co-writer and a dear friend. If you met him, you loved him. A creative genius.”

Fonfara received a Juno Award, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy, in 2018 as a member of Downchild for Blues Album of the Year.

He is survived by his wife, Avril, two daughters and four grandchildren.

By Matt Friedlander
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