Born in Berlin, his real name was Ralph Möbius. His father was an engineer for Siemens AG, and the family moved several times because of his father's work; they lived in Berlin, Oberbayern, Nürnberg, Mannheim, and Stuttgart. Reiser was never really able to feel at home in any of these places.
Reiser was known by his friends as someone who had a very special mind of his own. For example he managed to persuade his mother Erika M bius that he was allowed to stop attending school and start an apprenticeship in a studio for photography. She believed that he was an autodidact; he never learned things when he was taught by someone else. Thus he taught himself how to play cello, guitar, the piano and other instruments.
He was a rock musician and singer of the famous group Ton Steine Scherben. Some critics say that Rio Reiser created a new image of a German folk singer; he was even called a "Schlager" artist (a genre of German folk music), and a "Volksmusik" musician (sometimes translated as "folk music", but in a literary sense it means music of the people).
He decided to change his name from "Ralph Möbius" to Rio Reiser because of the novel Anton Reiser by Karl-Philip Moritz. During his teenage years Rio was a big fan of The Beatles and later of The Rolling Stones. After he left school, Reiser started as a singer for the rock band The Beat Kings where he met his partner R.P.S. Lanrue.
Later he ended his apprenticeship at the photographic studio and left The Beat Kings, to be able to go to Berlin. In Berlin he composed the first Beat-Opera, which wasn't successful at all.
In 1970 Reiser recorded his first single with the band Ton Steine Scherben. Their original name was actually "Was ich fand, waren Ton, Steine, Scherben". In that same year the group performed their first public concert and recorded their first full length record. Ton, Steine, Scherben were musically successful, but not in a commercial sense.
In 1985 Reiser and the band finally split because of financial reasons. Reiser had a large debt with the group, but his solo career went so well that he was free from debt in a short time. His first solo record-album was called König Von Deutschland which was produced by his manager Georges Glueck. Many of his friends from the Ton, Steine, Scherben days didn't like the fact that Reiser was suddenly a commercially successful musician.
Reiser's sixth and last solo record was Himmel und Helle (Heaven and Hell). Reiser wrote and performed most of his songs entirely by himself, although he was sometimes accompanied by his long time partner R.P.S. Lanrue.
He died at the age of 46 from a circulatory collapse in the little German town of Fresenhagen.