Michael Fonfara

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Michael Fonfara
Born (1946-08-11) August 11, 1946 (age 72)
Stevensville, Ontario, Canada
Occupation(s)Musician, pianist
Years active1963–present
Associated acts

Michael Fonfara (born August 11, 1946) is a Canadian keyboard player who is most notable for his work as a member of The Electric Flag and Rhinoceros in the 1960s, Rough Trade and Lou Reed's backing band in the 1970s and The Downchild Blues Band, from 1990 to the present. He studied classical piano at The Royal Conservatory of Music. He is a multiple Maple Blues Award winner as Piano/Keyboardist of the year and a Juno Award winner with the Downchild Blues Band.[1] His distinguished musical career was so honoured by the Maple Blues Awards as early as 2000 and a Juno Award in 2014.[2]


Fonfara's career as a professional musician commenced in 1963, when he started playing in the Toronto band, Lee Jackson & The Checkmates in 1963, which evolved into Jon and Lee & The Checkmates soon afterwards. Members of Jon and Lee & The Checkmates ultimately formed the nucleus of the later bands Rhinoceros and Blackstone, plus contributed significantly to the work of Lou Reed in the 1970s.

When John and Lee & The Checkmates broke up in September 1967, Fonfara worked briefly with David Clayton-Thomas and then, during the months of November and December, 1967, toured and recorded with The Electric Flag, featuring Buddy Miles and Michael Bloomfield. Fonfara replaced keyboardist and founding Electric Flag member Barry Goldberg.[3] He was then selected by producer Paul Rothchild as a member of the Elektra Records' hand-picked, "supergroup", Rhinoceros, in December 1967. Fonfara was the co-writer of the band's major hit, "Apricot Brandy", and recorded three albums with the group.

Upon the dissolution of Rhinoceros in 1971, Fonfara joined with ex-Rhinoceros bandmates John Finley, Danny Weis, Larry Leishman and Peter Hodgson to form the group Blackstone. The band recorded one album in 1972, On The Line, again produced by Paul Rothchild, prior to splintering and then breaking up in 1973.[4] Fonfara thereafter commenced working with Lou Reed, an association that continued throughout the balance of the 1970s. Fonfara caught Reed's attention for his work on The Everly Brothers' 1974 album Stories We Could Tell. In 1976, Fonfara was a member of controversial Toronto-based band Rough Trade, acting as keyboard player and arranger on their first album. He left the band at the end of 1977 in a dispute over payment for his work on Rough Trade's live revue show Restless Underwear. During the latter part of the 1970s and continuing to 1981, he was a member of the pop rock group Tycoon, based in New York City, which recorded two albums. He also played as a session musician on "Urgent" by Foreigner, a single that reached #4 in the US and #1 in Canada; the single's parent album Foreigner 4 hit number 1 on Billboard and was certified 6x platinum.

In the 1980s, Fonfara returned to Toronto, where he became a key member of the Canadian R&B band The Lincolns. The Lincolns had been founded by Prakash John, with whom Fonfara had first played in a later version of Blackstone in 1973[5] and, thereafter, when both were playing and recording with Lou Reed, during the balance of the 1970s. Fonfara continues[when?] to play with The Lincolns, while remaining a member of The Downchild Blues Band, which he joined in 1990. In 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2009, he was the recipient of the Maple Blues Award, as piano/keyboard player of the year.[6] Fonfara's career-based contributions to blues music were recognized through his nomination in 2008[7] and 2009[8] for the "Blues With A Feeling" Maple Blues Award.


Jon and Lee & The Checkmates[edit]

  • 1967 "Bring It Down Front/Pork Chops" (Spartan; single only)

Electric Flag[edit]


  • 1968 Rhinoceros (Elektra)
  • 1969 Satin Chickens (Elektra)
  • 1970 Better Times Are Coming (Elektra)


  • 1972 On The Line (1972)

Lou Reed[edit]

Rough Trade[edit]

  • 1976 Rough Trade Live! Direct To Disc (Umbrella Records)


  • 1979 Tycoon (Arista)

The Lincolns[edit]


  • 1994 Good Times Guaranteed (Downchild Music)
  • 1997 Lucky 13 (Downchild Music)
  • 2004 Come On In (Downchild Music)
  • 2007 Live At The Palais Royale (Downchild Music)

Selected other contributions[edit]


  1. ^ "Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year". Maple Blues Awards. Toronto Blues Society. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06.
  2. ^ "Can You Hear the Music". Juno Awards. Juno Awards.
  3. ^ Fonfara played with the band at the famous Fillmore West and Winterland ballrooms, both owned by Bill Graham, and recorded with the band in Los Angeles, having relocated from New York to do so. He was fired by the group's manager, Albert Grossman, following a drug arrest at the Tropicana Hotel in Los Angeles. See David Dann, An American Music Band: Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag at p. 2; www.mikebloomfieldamericanmusic.com. It was at the same Tropicana Hotel that Fonfara encountered ex-Checkmates John Finley and Peter Hodgson, who encouraged him to audition for Rhinoceros. See Rhinoceros.
  4. ^ The Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, Biography of Blackstone; www.jam.canoe.ca.
  5. ^ The Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, Biography of Blackstone; www.jam.canoe.ca.
  6. ^ Harris, Craig. "Downchild Blues Band Biography". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
  7. ^ List of 2008 Maple Blues Award winners and nominees Archived 2010-01-07 at the Wayback Machine; www.torontobluessociety.com. Fonfara lost to Amos Garrett.
  8. ^ List of 2009 Maple Blues Award winners and nominees Archived 2008-12-28 at the Wayback Machine; www.torontobluessociety.com. Fonfara lost to Chris Whiteley.
  9. ^ One of the group members, Charlie Angus, was subsequently elected as a Canadian Member of Parliament.

External links[edit]