I discovered Can at the age of 16, back when I was at school. Not because I was some sort of cool avant-garde kid but purely because they put out an album for a cut-price 59p.
I can’t remember whether Damo Suzuki sang on any of the songs on Limited Edition; I can only remember thinking Can were nothing like the Glam singles that were my staple diet, nor the stodgy rock of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin that dominated my friends’ listening – and far more interesting than the terrible records by Yes, Genesis and ELP that many of my schoolmates liked.
So I’m sad to learn that Damo Suzuki, who sang on Can’s three best albums – Future Days, Tago Mago and Ege Bamayasi – in the early Seventies, has died.
His voice, when I first heard it, was not initially appealing; he sang in an unconventional sort of whine, mixing nonsense verse with seemingly improvised ‘lyrics’ in a made-up language that incorporated elements of pidgin English.
I think all Can fans would agree Damo’s vocals were an acquired taste, albeit one we came to love. More importantly, they perfectly complemented the German group’s constantly evolving improvisational ambitions.s
The story of how a Japanese tourist bumming around Europe came to join a German band is worth retelling.
Damo was busking outside a cafe in Munich one day in 1970 when two of Can – Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit – popped in for a coffee. The duo had recently finished recording their debut album, Monster Movie, but their singer, Malcolm Mooney, had left the band soon afterwards.
They asked the Japanese stranger to join their band on the spot and he made his debut at a concert with them that very evening, staying from 1970-73.
Damo’s first recording was a song called Don’t Turn The Light On, Leave Me Alone, from the soundtrack of a 1970 soft-porn film called Cream – Schwabing Report, which translated into English as Schoolgirl Bride (alternatively, and even more salaciously, Secret Life Of A Schoolgirl Wife).
This tune, Vitamin C, came from Can’s third album, Ege Bamayasi, and is one of the more conventional numbers from a band renowned for their live improvisations and lengthy album tracks, often lasting 15-20 minutes.
RIP Damo Suzuki (Can) 1950-2024