Jaki Liebezeit R.I.P.

Can Drummer Jaki Leibezeit's Last Beat.

Written by John Diliberto on January 24, 2017

This weekend we got the sad news that drummer Jaki Liebezeit had died, succumbing to pneumonia at the age of 78. Jaki was most famed for being the drummer of Can, playing on all of their albums since their debut in 1969 with the album, Monster Movie. Jaki came from a jazz background and played in the free jazz bands of Manfred Schoof among others. He brought that into Can, but also, right from the beginning he also had a metronomic style of propulsive drumming that was dubbed “motoric.” It influenced many Krautrock bands, as well as many punk and new wave groups like Public Image Ltd, Ultravox (with whom they shared the late producer, Conny Plank) and Gary Numan, and continues to be a sound heard to this day in groups like Tim Gane’s Stereolab and Caverns of Anti-Matter, Radiohead and Sonic Youth. He also recorded with Jah Wobble, Michael RotherThe Eurythmics and Brian Eno. One of his last albums was a merging of his drumming with more minimal and ambient designs called Cyclopean with Can’s Irmin Schmidt, Jono Podmore and Burnt Friedman.

Liebezeit was actually scheduled to play a tribute to Can in April with original singer Malcolm Mooney, and Pete Shelly and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. Shelley had taken Liebezeit’s role in Michael Rother’s group when the guitarist toured America a few years ago.

When contemporary musicians and hipsters cite the influence of Krautrock, Can, along with Kraftwerk are always the first names that arise.  The core of Can, Irmin Schmidt on keyboards, Holger Czukay on bass and Michael Karoli on guitar were a monster instrumental combination, virtuosic, experimental and unafraid.  Most people love to cite the more minimal albums like Monster Movie and Future Days and the experimental Tago Mago as their signature releases. Those featured either American singer Malcolm Mooney or Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki. But I always favored the middle period albums, Landed  and Soon Over Babaluma with the core quartet. These albums featured extended instrumental workouts like “Chain Reaction” and tear your head-off psychedelic rockers like “Full Moon on the Highway” and “Vernal Equinox.”

I met Jaki briefly in Cologne when I was interviewing Holger Czukay. There he was in a café,  looking debonair and hip with slicked hair and leather jacket, like he just stepped off a motorcycle. I wish I’d spoken to him more or had the insight to shove a microphone in front of him.

The passing of Jaki Liebezeit signals the continuing twilight for the original Krautrocker’s time on Earth. Can’s Michael Karoli died young at the age of 53 in 2001. Neu! drummer Klaus Dinger is also gone, passing in 2008 at 61. Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese died in 2015 at 70 and and Cluster’s Dieter Moebius went the same year at 71, still outlived by his partner in the group, Hans-Joachim Roedelius who is 82.  Klaus Schulze is currently infirm at 69. Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider is 69, Ralf Hütter 70. However,  Christoph Franke and Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream are relative youngsters at 63 as is Manuel Gottsching, at 64. It seems like they’ll be around for a while.

In the 1970s, we thought they were making the music of the future, but nearly 50 years later, the future is here and though their time on earth is dwindling, their music is still changing the world.

We remember Jaki Liebezeit tonight on Echoes.

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