|Michael Fonfara was born August 11, 1946, near
Niagara Falls, in Ontario, Canada. As a young child, Michael was
into piano lessons once his parents recognized that he was replicating
the musical sounds he heard coming from the radio. It soon became
a labour of love which he fervently practiced with an undaunted compulsion.
Michael excelled far beyond his peers in classical piano at the Toronto
Conservatory of Music and won dozens of coveted music awards, thus
beginning his lifelong passion for the keyboards.
Fonfara blossomed into a much sought after player and eventually into a world-class arranger/producer of many of today’s artists, with over 35 years of experience in live music, radio and television productions. His knowledge of quality studio sound effects and musical soundtracks is vast. Moreover, he is an enthusiastic, results-oriented team player with sound business judgment. Although his credentials are too numerous to list them all here, it is licit to at least mention his career highlights.
In 1963 Michael joined Jon/Lee and the Checkmates, who performed at the Grand Opening of Toronto’s City Hall to an audience of over 60,000 people. Two years later they were selected to play at Maple Leaf Gardens as the opening act for The Rolling Stones.
Stardom had truly arrived for Michael as he received offer after offer to tour with some of rock’s most interesting icons. In the mid 1960s, top US blues band The Electric Flag, offered Michael a chance to join their recording project called, “Long Time Coming”, after seeing him perform. Their subsequent national tour was a grueling endeavor of hectic one night performances all across the nation.
Upon completion of his contractual obligations with The Electric Flag, Michael joined another top recording act signed to ELEKTRA called Rhinoceros in 1967. Their smash hit entitled “Apricot Brandy” was co-written by Michael on the Album “Rhinoceros 1968”. Their fame allowed Rhinoceros to play on many stages with such great late rock icons as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Michael stayed with this combo for approximately five years and recorded three complete albums during that time frame.
The years of constant touring took its toll on Michael and the other band members, who longed for the creative seclusion of the recording studio. As luck would have it, Paul Rothchild, the producer of Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield, and Jim Morrison and The Doors, was looking to formulate another top recording group. Right from the start, Rothchild recognized not only Michael’s classical keyboard training, but also his spontaneous musical ingenuity. Rothchild thus selected Michael and three other players from the disbanded Rhinoceros group to form a new band called Blackstone in 1972. Fonfara was elated to be in the studio again as they recorded their legendary LP called “On the Line”. This successful venture with Blackstone opened the door to other coveted recording sessions with the likes of The Everly Brothers, Loving Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Ry Cooder, and Buddy Emmons.
In 1974, the subsequent release of another chart topper LP called “Stories We Could Tell”, caught Lou Reed’s attention. The eventual Lou Reed and Michael union was a strategic career move for Michael as together they recorded seven LP’s in the ensuing years. The albums, “The Bells” and “Take No Prisoners”, were produced by Michael as well as co-writing and production credits on “Growing up In Public”.
Perhaps Michael’s greatest ability is his incredible talent as a musical arranger and producer. Michael has added immeasurably to hundreds of recording sessions. To name just a few - Rough Trade, Tycoon, Foreigner, The Lincolns, B.B. King, Booker T & the M.G’s, Joe Mavety, Peter Sabourin, Scott MacKinnon, Rodeo Drive, Blue Willow, Trick Bag, Kim Remus, The Greivous Angels, and the list goes on and on.
Since 1990 to the present day, Michael is the touring keyboard player for The Downchild Blues Band. Furthermore, he has acted as musical arranger and producer for three of their LPs and can be seen at various locations across North America. Suffice it to say, Michael has quickly become one of the busiest and most versatile keyboardists and arranger/producers in North America today.
Email from a fan
Hi Michael, I just wanted to tell you that seeing Rhinoceros at the Pavilion in Flushing Queens, in 1969 literally changed my life. The sound of that band, at that moment, the force and energy, the music, it made me certain I was on the right path. I was learning bass guitar, and had been playing for two years. I as I write this, have been a professional bassist for a very long time...started playing gigs as a novice, and 40 years later, I'm still loving it. I did session work in N.Y., played with some people you also played with. Drummer Ray Agcaoili and I were friends, and worked together with Leslie West in the late 70's. Well, I just wanted to say that you were a big influence on me, sometimes musicians need to know that their gift is appreciated, and I still listen to and love your work with Rhinoceros.
best, Dave Edwards