by Tony Johnson
The 4 letter word called “Funk” took a moment of silence on a fateful and dreadful Sunday morning of April 25, 1999. Funkmaster Roger Troutman at age 47 was allegedly gunned down by his older brother and business partner Larry Troutman outside his recording studio in Dayton, Ohio. A few blocks away Larry was found dead in his car from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Speculation has it that the 2 brothers were having a business dispute that went sour.
14 yrs later I still find it devastating that Roger is no longer with us but I didn’t write this article to talk about the devastation, I think most of us have seen and heard enough devastation over the years that it’s time to bring out the good and joy of things therefore I would like to pay homage and talk about how Roger Troutman was influential in my life as a person and musician.
September of 1980 as a 14 yr old boy I was walking around with my mother at the Tri-State fair. Michael Collins a childhood friend was walking around with a big ol’ jam-box and the music that were coming out of his speakers was something that I had never heard of before but it captivated me to the point that I left my mother and started following him around listening to the thundering bass and the robotic voice saying….”More Bounce, To The Ounce!”
The following year in 1981. I used to lock myself up in my room on Saturday’s and listen to FM-90 Body & Soul. Once again I heard the same robotic voice only this time saying… “Grapevine” at that time I was playing saxophone in school so I took out my alto sax and learned the sax part on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” Man, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t jamming…LOL!
In 1982 the beginning of my junior year in high school. I had just learned how to drive and my mom had bought this brown coated Pontiac from my next door neighbor Mr. Austin. the seat covers were made of this tiger plush like material and I had to show it off in front of my friends so instead of taking the bus to school like I normally did, my classmates Charles Granville & Nathan Woods, we all headed to school in my mother’s Pontiac passing the school bus that I should had been on making all kinds of crazy gestures then suddenly I came up with an idea to take a short cut to Tascosa High School (NOTE: We were already on Western st. so there’s no possible way to take a short cut so what in the HELL was I thinking about ?) about a block away from Plains st. I decided to make a turn unto a back street which lead me around to a side road next to a railroad track and lo and behold I drove off the side of the road into a ditch that ended up totaling out my mother’s car and 10 minutes later we could hear all the people laughing at us on the school bus as it drove by. Yes it was an embarrassing moment but with all that melee going on, the stereo system was blasting “Dance Floor” by “Zapp”.
Finally in 1983 at the age of 16 I got a chance to meet and speak with Roger Troutman backstage after a show in Amarillo with “Zapp” I told him I wanted to be a recording artist and that I was working on some material. He said “Cool, I want to hear your stuff once it’s completed” then he led me in the direction of the late Ray Davis. Ray Davis was part of Roger’s other group called “The Human Body” also famously known for being part of Parliament/Funkadelic with the bass voice on “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” he told Ray to give me the address for me to send my material and I must admit Ray Davis handwriting was so immaculate that I wished my handwriting was only half as good. 🙂
With that being said Roger was a very cool dude with a bubbly personality with unremarkable stage presence and showmanship. I could tell he was the kind of person that would help anyone who showed an interest in music rather or not he actually took me serious at age 16 but at least he took time out to sit and listen when he could had easily just kicked me to the curb.
I also was able to appreciate his true musicianship by incorporating ALL genres of music. Roger would go from funk, blues, jazz and rock all on one album
Roger Troutman should be in the elite of geniuses like Prince and Stevie Wonder simply because that robotic voice which is called a “Talk-Box” he mastered to perfection. Sure, there were many who used the “Talk-Box” before him like Peter Frampton, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, etc but it were mainly used just as a sound effect but Roger was the first to use the “Talk-Box” as a lead voice on a song from start to finish and as from a musician stand point he was a guitar extraordinaire and a multi-instrumentalist playing bass, drums, keyboards, harmonica, etc just like Prince he produced, engineered, arranged, composed all of his stuff. He worked day in and out of the recording studio producing artists and still made time to help run Troutman Enterprises Inc.
Listening to artists such as Teddy Riley, DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, Bigg Robb & T-Pain I can hear the influence that Roger Troutman had contributed. Even the newer generation are carrying on Roger’s “Talk-Box” tradition check out, Google or You-Tube Martin Ross, Lloyd Popp & Haz Mat.
Even though this is the 14th anniversary of Roger’s home-going his brothers Lester & Terry (Zapp) are still continuing to perform and tour as the “Zapp” band putting on electrifying performances all around the globe while paying tribute to their fallen comrade although I know it must be hard because both Roger and Larry were originally in the “Zapp” band and most of all they were indeed brothers but through all of the hurt and pain God still made a break through for the Troutman family.
Thank you Roger for all of the wonderful memories that you were able to share and yes, I do have a “Talk-Box” although I’m trying to perfect having a tube stuck in my mouth but eventually I’ll have it down pact but it just goes to show how your legacy will forever live on.
Rest In Peace:
Roger Troutman (November 29, 1951 – April 25, 1999)
Copyright 2013 – Tony Johnson. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.