Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Glenn McDonald became rebellious as a teen and ended up in a reform school run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. At the age of fourteen, he discovered the saxophone and Charlie Parker. He eventually moved to Toronto, and became a regular on Canada’s jazz scene from the 1960s through the 1980s.
McDonald migrated to Toronto and joined the Soul Searchers, R&B band in Canada, in 1969. It was fronted by Dianne Brooks and Eric Mercury, with Terry Logan on guitar, William ”Smitty” Smith on organ, and Eric “Mouse” Johnson on drums. McDonald replaced Steve Kennedy on saxophone. Later, McDonald teamed up with arranger Ray Sikora and Jim Heineman to form a film soundtrack production company. The company recorded four compositions by Smitty Smith. Engineered by Phil Sheridan, these sessions included several horn players that would eventually become the Boss Brass, as well as string players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The plan was for the label to become Canada’s answer to Motown with McDonald the featured soloist on the only instrumental. These recordings were involved in litigation and were never released.
McDonald moved to Killaloe, Ontario, in 1970. He and Jim Heineman formed The Killaloe Mountain Band. It was here that the important relationship between McDonald and guitarist Lenny Breau began, with Breau a frequent visitor. There exist several unpublished recordings with McDonald and Lenny on the bandstand together. In his later life, McDonald would negotiate with guitarist Randy Bachman to sell these recordings, but McDonald died before a deal could be reached.
In 1980, McDonald returned to Toronto. John T. Davis and Jim Heineman collaborated with vocalist Jeanette Brantly to produce a CBC Easter gospel special. The idea was to team up the major singers in the city, including Liberty Silver, Ron Small, Carlene Davis, Jackie Richardson, Wayne St. John, Bobbi Sherron, Erin Malone, and others. McDonald played a rendition of Lover Man, captured on video.
Many of McDonald’s solos were never recorded and only exist in the memory of those who were present. Some of his most important performances took place at George’s Spaghetti House in Toronto, where he fronted a quartet consisting of Gary Williamson on piano, Bob McLaren on drums, and Dave Field on bass. McDonald does appear on recordings with Claude Ranger, Demo Cates, Michel Donato, Reg Schwager, David and Rob Piltch, Don Thompson, Terry Clarke, P.J. Perry, Jerry Fuller, Neil Swainson, Steve Wallace, Bobby Brough, Lionel Williams, Greg Pilo, Sonny Greenwich, and many others. His influences included Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, and Dexter Gordon.
McDonald battled with alcoholism and drug addiction for most of his life and finally recovered in 1994 with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He spent the final years of his life sober and working with other alcohol and drug addicts. He died of cancer in 1998.
During the last year of his life as his health declined, he continued to negotiate with Randy Bachman to sell the rights to the unpublished recordings with Lenny Breau, but a deal was never reached. The tapes ended up in Bachman’s hands and some of the music was released on Bachman’s label.