Michael Fonfara, the keyboardist best known for his work with Lou Reed and the Downchild Blues Band, has died, CBC News reports and Pitchfork can confirm. Fonfara died January 8 in a Toronto hospital following a two-year battle with cancer, as Fonfara’s publicist confirmed in a statement sent to Pitchfork. Fonfara was 74 years old.
Fonfara played on a total of nine Lou Reed albums between 1974 and 2005, including Sally Can’t Dance, Rock and Roll Heart, Street Hassle, and The Bells, the latter of which was also executive produced by Fonfara. In 1980, Reed released Growing Up in Public, which was co-written and co-produced by Fonfara.
In addition to his longterm work with Reed, Fonfara recorded with Foreigner (notably on their hit song “Urgent” from 1981’s 4), the Everly Brothers, Rhinoceros, Electric Flag, and more. In 1999 Fonfara contributed to 2B3 – The Toronto Sessions—a collection of songs played on the Hammond B3 organ. Fonfara was joined by Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, Bill Payne, and many others for the project.
Outside of his role as a sought-after session musician, Fonfara also played keyboard for Canadian blues band Downchild for over 30 years. The band was notably the inspiration for fictional group the Blues Brothers in John Landis’ 1980 film of the same name. Downchild paid tribute to Fonfara on their website, where band members wrote that he was “an incredible musician, a gentle soul.” The band added: “We were honoured to share the stage with him every time we performed. He will be deeply missed.”
Fonfara’s final recording was at Downchild’s 50th Anniversary party in 2019. The celebration included special guests Paul Shaffer, David Wilcox, Kenny Neal, Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd, and more. The music was captured for Downchild’s latest release Live at the Toronto Jazz Festival, which came out last year.