January Marches to a Down Beat

Can’s drummer Jaki Liebezeit (second from right in this band photo) died of pneumonia on January 22nd. Born just before World War II began in Dresden, Germany, Liebezeit spent the postwar years playing jazz, including with Manfred Schoof’s Quintet, helping pioneer European free jazz. He subsequently helped form Can in 1968.

While Can blazed their own path with a mixture of improvised avant-garde and rock, Jaki was a force of nature behind the drums, mixing the motorik style prominent with the Krautrock movement with early experiments with drum machines, African percussion and nods to funk. The band released 11 albums from 1969-79, and influenced a range of acts including Public Image Ltd., the Jesus & Mary Chain and the Geraldine Fibbers. Liebezeit, who was 78, had been scheduled to play with former Can cohorts Irmin Schmidt and Malcolm Mooney in April in a band called Can-Project.

Liebezeit was one of a number of drummers who passed away in January. Among those was free jazz drummer Charles “Bobo” Shaw, who played with several luminaries of that scene but gained most fame leading the Human Arts Ensemble with Lester and Joseph Bowie, Oliver Lake, David Murray and Julius Hemphill. Shaw was 69.

Bridging the gap between late ‘60s rock and ‘70s new wave, drummer Mike Kellie was a founding member of both Spooky Tooth and The Only Ones, who were scheduled to open for The Who in Atlanta in 1980 but had to quickly leave the country after singer Peter Perrett tried to run over a valet in California. Kellie passed away on January 18th at age 69.

Drummer Gil Ray also left us, succumbing to cancer on January 24th at age 60. Ray came to prominence in California power-pop bands Game Theory and The Loud Family, both led by Scott Miller (1960-2013). He was also a member of the reconstituted Rain Parade from 2012-14.

The final and most renowned drummer to pass in January was Allman Brothers Band founding member Butch Trucks, who died on January 24th at age 69. Trucks was in every incarnation of the Southern rock trailblazers until their last breakup in 2014. As part of a twin drummer setup, Trucks provided the driving steadiness that allowed co-drummer Jaimoe to improvise, helping create the Allmans’ unique vibe. In recent years, Trucks had led Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band, who played two of their last shows at Atlanta’s City Winery and Athens’ Foundry on January 3rd and 5th. UPDATE: On January 26, news emerged that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. So sad…

Maybe it would just be shorter to list drummers who didn’t die in January…