Damo Suzuki, the Japanese musician best known as the singer on the second, third, and fourth studio albums by German experimental rock band Can, died yesterday (Feb, 9) at the age of 74 after a decade-long battle with colon cancer.
“It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of our wonderful friend Damo Suzuki,” a message on Can’s Instagram page said. “His boundless creative energy has touched so many over the whole world, not just with Can, but also with his all continent spanning Network Tour. Damo’s kind soul and cheeky smile will be forever missed.”
“He will be joining Michael, Jaki and Holger for a fantastic jam!” the post added. “Lots of love to his family and children. We will post funeral arrangements at a later date.”
Suzuki was born on Jan. 16, 1950 in Japan and relocated as a teenager to Europe, where he began busking. Can had been playing for two years and had already parted ways with original singer Malcolm Mooney when Czukay and Liebezeit discovered Suzuki singing outside a cafe in Munich. They convinced him to play a show with them that night, and he remained in Can until 1973 when he exited the band to marry his girlfriend.
Suzuki’s tenure in Can included the hugely influential albums Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973), and his incantatory, oft-improvised vocals were the spiked cherry on top of the group’s brain-melting, funky Krautrock sundae.
After his departure, Suzuki became a Jehovah’s Witness and retreated from music for over a decade. He re-emerged in 1983 with the group Damo Suzuki’s Network, and later in his career collaborated with artists such as The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Acid Mothers Temple, Sixtoo and Radio Massacre International.
In an odd twist of timing, the next edition in Can’s long-running Can Live series, Can Live in Paris 1973, will be the first to document a show with Suzuki as the singer. It will be released on Feb. 23 on the group’s Spoon Records label and chronicles one of Suzuki’s last performances with Can.
“Grateful that I got to share the stage with him a few years back,” wrote the Smile drummer Tom Skinner on X. “An unforgettable experience. What an incredible human being. RIP.” Added underground rock veteran Chris Forsyth, “In the early ’00s, I once stayed at the same dank crash house as Damo after a gig in Athens, Ga., and when I went to the kitchen in the A.M., he was drinking a Budweiser. He smiled big, toasted and said ‘Breakfast of Champions!’ RIP Damo Suzuki.”
In an Instagram post, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow called Can “quite easily the band with the biggest influence on me. It’s quite easy to hear their influence in many other bands also, like Blur/Radiohead. Damo’s vocals were like none other. His melodies and lyrics came from somewhere else in between blues and traditional folk and pure noise and rhythmic energy. Obviously he will be missed like the rest of the band who have passed away, but what a legacy to leave by musically influencing so so many people.”