Michael Karoli was born and grew up in Straubing, Bavaria, moving to St. Gallen, Switzerland by the time he finished school. He learned to play the guitar, violin and cello as a child, and played in numerous jazz and dance bands. In 1966, he met and befriended Holger Czukay, who was his guitar teacher for a while. After he graduated he began studies of the law until leaving in 1968 to form Can with Czukay, Irmin Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit, and David Johnson. His main role was that of the guitarist, with occasional uncredited violin performances, and later also providing vocals. He was a constant member of the band, playing with it between 1968 and its break-up in 1979. He also joined the band for its three reunions, in 1986, 1991, and 1999.