Percussionist Ralph MacDonald, the hidden force behind platinum selling songs and albums from artists like David Bowie, Paul Simon and Jimmy Buffett, died on Sunday (Dec. 18) at age 67. Known as “the ghost,” MacDonald’s Caribbean style on congas and dozens of other hand drums and music-makers helped make artists big enough to be recognized by first name — Aretha, Luther, Stevie — only get bigger. 

“I don’t want to be a superstar,” he told the New York Times many years ago. “Above all, I’m a musician first.” The Harlem born musician got his start with Harry Belafonte, and was writing hit songs before his 30th birthday. Among his biggest successes were ‘Where is the Love?,’ recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, and ‘Just the Two of Us,’ a hit for Bill Withers.

In addition, MacDonald played on Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album and Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville.’ He made six albums with Simon and also recorded with Rod Stewart, James Taylor and Billy Joel. The percussionist’s website lists eight solo albums, including ‘Mixty Motions,’ released in 2008.

The New York Times reports that Ralph MacDonald died of lung cancer. He leaves behind his wife Grace four children, three grandchildren and a sister.