Musician and film-maker

Born: May 12, 1948;

Died: February 2, 2020.

IVAN Král, who has died aged 71, was a Czech musician, songwriter and filmmaker who settled in America and became a well-travelled figure in the New York punk scene of the 1970s. He played in an early incarnation of Blondie, wrote and recorded with Iggy Pop, and filmed the scene and figures around him – including Talking Heads and Television – on 16mm as a hobby.

When he and filmmaker Amos Poe combined their footage in the film The Blank Generation (1976), it became a cult document of this pioneering scene’s infancy.

Yet amid his eclectic and wide-ranging body of work, no element is more significant or enduring than the years Král spent as a member of the Patti Smith Group between 1975 and 1979. Principally the group’s bass player, he also played some guitar and made vocal contributions; more importantly, he was also credited as co-writer on a number of Smith’s songs during this period.

He was a key player on Smith’s first four albums, Horses (1975), Radio Ethiopia (1976), Easter (1978) and Wave (1979), before she went into semi-retirement through most of the 1980s. All four were key works by a significant artist, yet Horses in particular is considered one of the greatest rock records yet recorded, to the extent that it was preserved by the US Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

Král was credited on eleven songs on these albums, including Horses’ Birdland and Kimberly, 1976 singles Pissing in a River and Pumping (My Heart), and the enduring classic Dancing Barefoot, a song which has been covered by artists including U2, Simple Minds and First Aid Kit. When Smith’s group disbanded, he played guitar and keyboards on Iggy Pop’s album, Soldier (1980) and co-wrote most of the 1981 follow-up, Party; the pair’s single Bang Bang was later recorded by David Bowie.

He also co-wrote songs for British singer John Waite’s first three solo albums (including the 1985 American hit Every Step of the Way); co-wrote the 1982 song Ce Soir et Ce Soir with major French rock group Téléphone; co-composed the score for Barry Levinson’s debut film, Diner, in the same year; and saw some 1978/79 recordings with former Velvet Underground member and Horses producer, John Cale, released as the 1987 live album, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Král returned to his homeland in 1993, where he became a key and widely-renowned figure in music. In the Czech Republic he won various national music prizes, produced a number of the country’s locally-famed bands, and composed a piece of music for the memorial service of the late former President Vaclav Havel in 2011.

Although he eventually settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he had a studio, Král’s later solo albums were most successful in the Czech Republic; his most widely-known is 1995’s Nostalgia, whose Perfect Moon featured guest appearances by both Smith and Cale. “Ivan fit in perfectly,” Smith once said of him, “because all of us were slightly offbeat, and felt somehow alienated from the mainstream of society… of course Ivan, being a true alien, fit in well.”

Ivan Král was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1948, the younger of two sons of a musician mother and journalist father. His family fled Czechoslovakia in 1968, just prior to the Warsaw Pact countries’ invasion in the wake of the Prague Spring, and his father Karel took a job as a translator with the United Nations, where he became a dissident voice against the Czech government.

A 16-year-old Král had enjoyed a hit in his home country with his band Saze and fantasised about returning home to more pop success, but he had to make do with learning English by watching cartoons. He went on to do a degree in French literature and a job in the mail-room at Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records, where he met members of the Beatles.

Hanging out with the soon-to-be-celebrated CBGBs crowd in New York, Král briefly played guitar in a 1974 incarnation of Blondie, although it was his film work with this group and many others which secured his earliest success.

He died in Ann Arbor of cancer, his wife Cindy Hudson announced. A biography of his life was released in Czech in 2019, with the English language