Obituary: Roger Troutman

ZAPP WAS one of a myriad acts who took up the funk of James Brown and George Clinton and turned it into the sophisticated R&B which dominated US urban radio stations in the Eighties. Zapp's lead singer and instrumentalist Roger Troutman was found shot dead on Sunday, apparently by his older brother Larry, who subsequently committed suicide.

With Roger Troutman at the helm, Zapp developed enough of a cult following in the UK to sell out the Hammersmith Odeon and score two Top 75 hits in 1986. Their anthem "More Bounce to the Ounce" has cropped up on rap records by the likes of Ice Cube, Snoop Doggy Dogg and EPMD, and Troutman himself had most recently featured on the infectious hit "California Love", which made the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in 1996 and was nominated for a Grammy award.

Zapp evolved out of the Troutmans, a family group comprising the versatile Roger (on vocals and guitar) and his brothers Larry (congas, percussion), Lester (drums) and Terry (bass, keyboards). Terry was nicknamed "Zapp" because, as a baby, he couldn't pronounce the name of Elza Sapp (the principal at his brothers' elementary school).

Originally from Hamilton, a small Ohio town halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati, the Troutman family were heavily influenced by the Ohio Players (local heroes based in Dayton) and the bass-player Bootsy Collins, who lived in Cincinnati. Bootsy Collins took the Troutmans under his wing, introducing them to the Parliament and Funkadelic leader George Clinton, and helping them to secure a recording deal with Warner Brothers.

In 1980, "More Bounce to the Ounce", Zapp's debut single, included on their eponymous first album, proved an instant smash. The thumpy bass, the choppy rhythm guitars and Roger Troutman's unlikely use of a talk-box made this slice of funk irresistible and it reached No 2 on the R&B charts. Since then, it has become arguably one of the most sampled tracks of all time.

The following year, Troutman struck out on his own, recording as Roger, with a solo album entitled The Many Facets of Roger and a high-tech up- tempo remake of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". The song had also been a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips and Creedence Clearwater Revival but Troutman was adamant he could update it. He spent hours building the track, once again using the Vocoder to great effect. Troutman had noticed Stevie Wonder and Peter Frampton employing this strange device in the mid-Seventies.

"People seemed to like the voice box but they couldn't always understand what I was saying," Troutman remembered. "So I said to myself: the best way to prove this works is to take a song everybody knows and do a remake. If they think they can't understand the words through the voice box, they'll know the words because the other versions have already planted those lyrics in the listener's mind."

The single topped the R&B charts for two weeks in November 1981. "I've never experienced any feeling like having a No 1 record. It's the ultimate in acceptance and it was amazing," Troutman said.

The following year, Zapp released the album Zapp II, featuring the maddeningly catchy "Dance Floor (Part 1)", which gave them another No 1 R&B hit. "It was so unorthodox, such a bizarre, insane way of making a record," Troutman said. "I never knew exactly what I was going to do next. The only thing I was sure about was that I wanted to call the song `Dance Floor' because I was imagining a guy at the discotheque who's a bit bashful."

In 1983 the album Zapp III and the single "I Can Make You Dance" confirmed Zapp's status as potential rivals to the Gap Band, Kool and the Gang and the Dazz Band. Roger Troutman kept busy producing the group Human Body, the former Zapp singer Bobby Glover and the vocalist Shirley Murdock, who joined Zapp on the album The New Zapp IV U. The group's hard-edged sound became even more sophisticated as the synthesiser-heavy single "Computer Love" pointed soul towards the future while "It Doesn't Really Matter" looked back to their funk roots.

"It's the black experience, it's the blues of the Eighties," Troutman said at the time about Zapp's distinctive brand of funk. "It has the same purpose with black people as blues had for black people when B.B. King started out, or Jimmy Reed."

Following the Top Ten success of "Computer Love", Troutman reverted to his solo persona for "I Want To Be Your Man", a 1987 ballad inspired by relationships. This time, Troutman used a slightly different approach. "It was a mixture of my human voice and the voice box. I had never done that before," he explained. "I have a keen understanding of harmony and music and I have a very good understanding of layering. It would always take a long time to record because, with the voice box, I could only play one note at a time."

In fact, unsure of the result, the musician wanted "I Want To Be Your Man" to remain an album track. The Warners president Lenny Waronker changed Troutman's mind. Troutman related that "He called and said, `This song is so great . . . We want you to leave Warner Brothers and put you over on Reprise.' Lenny wanted to launch the record in a big way. I have to say it was a great success. It was No 1 black and No 3 pop." This crossover success meant Troutman could even sing the song at a rodeo in Texas and do a six-night run of shows at Disneyland.

But after Zapp V, the group lost momentum and toured only sporadically. A compilation entitled Zapp & Roger: all the greatest hits, issued in 1993, featured several remixes and a rather ghastly "mega-medley". In 1996, Troutman appeared with the dance act One Tribe on "High as a Kite (FFRR)" and rappers The Click on "Scandalous (Jive)". He issued the odd solo album (The Saga Continues) and ran Troutman Enterprises, and was working in his Dayton studio when he was killed.

Roger Troutman, singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and producer: born Hamilton, Ohio 1941; died Dayton, Ohio 25 April 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little