By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”
It seems of late that I’m spending a lot of time digging through boxes of forgotten stuff which I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve previously mentioned that I recently moved my operations to a new studio-office building, so I’ve been cleaning, organizing and disposing of “stuff.” A couple of weeks back I found some material and a couple of tracks from one of my all-time favorite groups, Roger and Zapp. Okay, I admit it, I’m a fan of funk, and in the opinion of many, Roger Troutman was at the top of the heap.
As much as anything, Roger is best known for his use of the vocoder or “talk box,” as it is often called. With his innovative sounds, Grade A R&B and funk and a 15-person backing group, Roger scored big with his Top 5 albums “The Many Faces of Roger” (1981) and “Unlimited!” (1987). Both of these albums also spun off #1 single hits, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “I Want to be Your Man.” Also, he collaborated with many of the top funk and R&B artists of the period, notably on 1995’s 2Pac and Dr. Dre hit, “California Love” and Keith Sweat’s 1994 #1, “Put Your Lovin’ Through the Test.”
Despite his many achievements, Roger Troutman, along with his brother, came to a tragic end on the morning of April 25, 1999, when he was found with multiple gunshot wounds outside his studio in Dayton, Ohio. Adding to the tragedy, Roger’s brother, Larry, was discovered a short time later in his car a few blocks away, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Although there apparently were no witnesses to the crime, it is speculated that an ongoing dispute between the brothers over Larry’s financial problems and Roger’s wish to end their business partnership climaxed with the shooting. Sadly, for the Troutman family, in March of 2012, Roger’s son, Roger Lynch Troutman, Jr., was arrested and charged with murdering his girlfriend.
Roger first gained attention when he played on Parliament-Funkadelic’s final Warner Brothers album, “The Electric Spanking of War Babies.” Although he had bands previously (The Crusaders, Little Roger & The Vels, Roger & the Human Body, “discovered” by George Clinton and signed as Zapp in 1979, the newly minted band made their debut on the first and only Funk Music Awards show. The following year, they were signed by Warner Brothers Records and released their self-titled debut album which gave us the #2 “More Bounce to the Ounce” in 1980.
Between 1980 and 1985, Zapp produced three gold albums and Top Ten hits including “Be Alright,” “Dance Floor,” “I Can Make You Dance” and “It Really Doesn’t Matter.” However, the magic ran out in 1989 as the band’s music failed to score. Down but not out, their biggest-selling album came in 1993 with the release of “Zap & Roger: All the Greatest Hits,” featuring remixes of their singles and a new single, “Slow and Easy.”
Along with his career as a solo artist, and as a member of Zapp, Troutman was also a much-in-demand producer and writer for a number of other artists including The Persuaders, Shirley Murdock and Elvis Costello.
Troutman’s legacy includes being regarded as part of the backbone of hip-hop and the template for later musicians who used the computer to shape their music. He has also provided a catalogue of music which has inspired 30 years of hits. Much like Marvin Gaye, one can only wonder what this tireless creative man could have accomplished had he lived. However, he left behind a wealth of great music for past and future fans to enjoy throughout the years to come.