Michael Fonfara, the keyboardist best known for his work with Lou Reed and the Downchild Blues Band, has passed away, as reported by CBC News and Pitchfork can confirm. Fonfara died on January 8 in a Toronto hospital after a two-year battle with cancer, 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’n’Roll Heart, Street Hassle and The Bells, the latter of which was also produced by Fonfara as executive producer. In 1980, Reed released Growing Up in Public, co-written and produced by Fonfara.
In addition to his longstanding work with Reed, Fonfara has recorded with Foreigner (particularly on their 1981s hit “Urgent” 4), the Everly Brothers, Rhinoceros, Electric Flag and others. 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 played keyboards for the Canadian blues band Downchild for over 30 years. The band was particularly the inspiration for the 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, “It’s been an honor to share the stage with him every time we perform. He will be missed very much. “
Fonfara’s last shot was at the Downchild 50th anniversary party in 2019. The special guests Paul Shaffer, David Wilcox, Kenny Neal and the blues brother Dan Aykroyd took part in the celebration. The music was recorded for Downchild’s latest release Live at the Toronto Jazz Festival, which came out last year.