Jaki Liebezeit: Tribute to One of the World’s Best Drummers

Can - Jaki Liebezeit
The rhythm master at work.

Shamefully, as big fans of brilliantly innovative ’70s Krautrock band Can, we only just found out the band’s stunningly gifted drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, died in January 2017 aged 78.

Famous the world over, the band still only has a cult following, with most music fans remaining clueless there are geniuses amongst them. Pink Floyd, some folks will rant, often receive notification for the great innovators of the ’70s. Garbage.

Can was a million miles ahead, musically and creatively. And Liebezeit was vital to that creative push.

Jaki Liebezeit the Drumming God

Was Jaki Liebezeit the best drummer? Yeah. Pretty much, anyway! We put him right near the top of our Best Drummers Ever list.

Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1938, Liebezeit grew up in a nation torn apart by post-war shame and disillusionment. The new generation of Germans in a post-Nazi world were determined to show off their cultural prowess. It was time to move on.

Krautrock emerged in the ’60s to show what Germany was truly capable of. Can formed in 1968, which ultimately led to a series of landmark records.

Liebezeit gifted his astonishing drumming to all of them. Have a listen to his outstanding work on the bopping Oh Yeah from Tago Mago (1971).

But you won’t see Liebezeit listed in many Top 100 Drummers Ever lists in the likes of Rolling Stone magazine.

That’s simply due to ignorance on the “experts” part. In the same way The Stone Roses’ Reni, arguably the most naturally gifted drummer, has never made it to the same list.

This shocking lack of knowledge aside, Liebezeit is unquestionably one of the greatest drummers of all time.

His drumming on Ege Bamyasi is just glorious. It’s jazzy tinged, but with punchy elements of rock. And he balances it out perfectly.

It’s perfect drumming. No other way to describe. Whether the itchy work on Vitamin C or jazzy and melodic Spoon, there’s no possible way to play better on these songs.

Can’s brilliant guitarist, Michael Karoli (who died in 2001), joked, on first spending time with Liebezeit, he thought he looked like a serial killer. The steely gaze and air of cold detachment did that.

These attributes weren’t helped by the psychotically precise, barely human, robotic, and relentlessly pulsating nature of the man’s drumming.

His band members often noted he was better than any drumming machine on the planet.

Jaki Liebezeit’s Genius Drumming Style

To suggest Liebezeit could only reel off a beat over and over (as he does on the 18-minute Halleluwah on Tago Mago) is a massive understatement.

With his schooling in jazz, Liebezeit had all the swing and harmonic understanding of music as any of his peers. For Can, he was utterly indispensable. Without him, the band wouldn’t be half as interesting.

As drummers ourselves, we can attest to the remarkable style Liebezeit created.

It’s exceptionally distinctive and complex, which is extremely difficult to do (listen to most rock drummers and they’ll stick to a basic beat in every song).

Perched on his drumming stool staring dead ahead, occasionally with flicks of his head to one side or another, the man would blast out his trademark grooves with seemingly no effort.

He was extremely versatile, too, shifting between robotic funk and rock (mainly seen on Tago Mago), jazz (Ege Bamyasi), and jazzy/experimental (Future Days).

It’s exhilarating to listen to, showcasing his uncanny limb independence and ability to create complex, but accessible, drum patterns.

Now, there aren’t many drumming geniuses—most drummers really shouldn’t grace a kit (ourselves included), but Liebezeit is one of the few whose legacy must be remembered.

This is adieu to a master.

But you can read more about his practical theory as a drummer in the excellent 2020 book Jaki Liebezeit: The Life, Theory, and Practice of a Master Drummer.

It details the development of his dot dash (E-T rhythm system) he developed throughout much of the 1980s and beyond.

A Rare Jaki Liebezeit Drum Solo

To round things off, here’s a rare drum solo from Mr. Liebezeit. He goes all out with that one, providing an exhilarating solo with all his trademark flourishes.

But what is there for his legacy? Take a listen to Can’s three landmark albums from the early 1970s—Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days.

All three showcase Liebezeit’s drumming abilities to their full extent, with his incredible versatility easy to hear.

You can also read a touching tribute to the man from his former band member, Damo Suzuki.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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