Kenji "Damo" Suzuki, the fearless, nomadic vocalist who chanced into fronting the greatest rock group of all time, Can, passed away on February 9 after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 74. 

Born in Kobe, Japan, in 1950, Suzuki, moved to Europe as a budding musician in the late '60s. One day while busking in Munich, Germany, Suzuki captured the attention of Can's drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay. They asked Damo to sing over some pieces they were recording for various films, which eventually appeared on the 1970 compilation Soundtracks. Check the chase-scene, pulse-pounder "Mother Sky" for an early glimpse into his shiver-inducing intonations.

Suitably impressed by his distinctive timbres and range of emotions, Can enlisted Suzuki to sing on 1971's Tago Mago, 1972's Ege Bamyasi, and 1973's Future Days—three of the most inventive and influential albums in the rock canon. Damo cemented his place in the pantheon with his outré, riveting performances on those classic records. He also animated four tracks on Can's odds-and-ends collection Unlimited Edition and the mirthful, circus-funk non-LP B-side "Turtles Have Short Legs" and the low-lit, Afro-Latin shuffle "Shikako Maru Ten."  

Suzuki's vocal style deviated from the more rhythmic and declamatory delivery of Can's previous singer, the Black American sculptor Malcolm Mooney, and the instrumentalists adapted to accommodate Suzuki's more hushed and unpredictable style. However, both Mooney and Suzuki were more Dadaist poets than conventional rock lyricists, and their spontaneous verbal playfulness perfectly complemented Can's improvisational verve, in the studio and onstage.

On Tago Mago, Damo navigated Can's most extreme experimental excursions as well as some of their most straightforward rockers with a poise that toggled between sage and feral. Mostly a light and lithe presence amid the hard-driving, ominous rockers ("Paperhouse," "Mushroom," "Oh Yeah"), Suzuki flaunted his diabolical array of verbal tics and sinister chants on the mantric rhythm marathon "Halleluwah" and the free-form bafflers "Aumgn" and "Peking O." On Tago Mago, he was often more a highly attuned method actor reacting to avant-garde studio sorcery than a typical rock frontman. Despite his slight build, Suzuki could wail with ferocity when the occasion demanded it, e.g., the "I'm gonna give my despair" line in "Mushroom," about the horror of witnessing an atomic bomb explosion. 

Ege Bamyasi found Can at their most concise and funky, as epitomized by the stutter-step funk bomb "Vitamin C," a favorite of breakdancers worldwide, bolstered by Suzuki's tour-de-force, murmur-to-a-scream microphone fiending. On "Pinch," Damo's like a welterweight boxer sparring with the weirdly angled funky beats. One of my favorite Suzuki flexes comes on "I'm So Green," a slice of surf-funk sublimity that he slaloms with featherlight, sotto voce stealth. Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus was so enraptured by this album, he released a full-on tribute to it with 2013's Can's Ege Bamyasi—which has become a collector's item. The 21st-century British group Fujiya & Miyaki basically lifted their whispery vocal shtick from Suzuki's dominant mode on Ege Bamyasi.

On Future Days, Suzuki's final album for Can and their last indisputable masterpiece, his voice is a silken cork bobbing amid the waves of Can's oceanic rock. It is by far the most pacific and amniotic of the three Can LPs on which Suzuki appeared. The singer's at his most melodic and beautiful here, even as he's subsumed into the spume-y aquasonics guitarist Michael Karoli, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, Czukay, and Liebezeit generate. 

Suzuki departed from Can in 1973 and exited the music biz after becoming a Jehovah's Witness. As phenomenal musicians as Can were, they would never equal the heights they achieved with Suzuki in the lineup.

Damo returned to music in the mid '80s as leader of his own group, Damo Suzuki's Network. Rather than a traditional band, DSN was a rotating ensemble of simpatico players—invariably Can super-fans—corralled in each city that the peripatetic iconoclast visited. Ever-shifting and never-repeating, DSN jammed their way through cities (they cut an album titled Seattle in 1999) and countries, spreading salubrious energy and psychedelic wonderment wherever they went. 

Damo was so monumental a figure that the Fall's Mark E. Smith wrote one of his most anomalously brilliant songs about him, "I Am Damo Suzuki"—hero worship and unattainable wish-fulfillment in one tune. 

The outpouring of love and respect for Suzuki—as both musician and individual—on social media was immediate and profuse. He was a true original who never compromised and touched millions of lives. This tribute on Twitter (I will never call it X) by David Stubbs, a British critic who wrote liner notes for various Can reissues and Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany, really captures Damo Suzuki's specialness.