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Roger Troutman; Popular for His Funk Music in ‘80s

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roger Troutman, a singer, musician, bandleader and producer who was an influential presence in the world of funk music, has died.

The 47-year-old Troutman died Sunday at a hospital in Dayton, Ohio, of gunshot wounds in what police were investigating as a murder-suicide. Troutman’s 54-year-old brother, Larry, was found a short time later with a fatal bullet wound to the head. Initial police reports indicated that Larry Troutman shot his brother and then killed himself.

The Troutmans are survived by their mother, three brothers and two sisters.

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As the leader of the group Roger & Zapp--or Zapp & Roger depending on the CD--Troutman was extremely influential to a generation of funk and rap artists in the 1980s.

His band’s electric, high-energy performances at clubs and dance halls throughout the country were punctuated by the sound of lyrics running through a “talkbox,” which effectively synthesized his voice in a variety of ways. He recalled that around the time his band was getting started “Star Wars” was in the public consciousness.

“Darth Vader was very popular. . . ,” Troutman said, “and his voice had a very robot-like sound to it.”

The “robot-like sound” in Troutman’s talkbox/dance-track sound evolved to the point that one writer, Steve Pick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said it resembled an “old science fiction computer on helium.”

Pick’s interesting image was an apt description for Troutman’s music, which grew in popularity through the 1980s. The computer sound on top of a funky groove, along with the talkbox, was specifically Troutman’s.

“The most important thing,” Troutman told a Times reporter in 1997, “was that, before we had any hit records, we performed live literally every night of the week, and we had to keep people dancing all night long.

“I really got a feel for what would make people get up and move,” Troutman added, “and right at the height of that is when I went into the studio for the first time. First time in the studio, first record and first hit.”

That first album for Warner Bros., “Zapp” in 1980, yielded the hit “More Bounce to the Ounce, Pt. 1” and launched Troutman’s career. It also brought a new name to the band “Zapp,” which had started out as “Roger and the Human Body” in 1975 in his hometown of Hamilton, a working-class town in western Ohio. The band, with Troutman on vocals and guitar; Lester Troutman on drums; Terry Troutman on bass, and Larry Troutman on congas, came to the attention of funkmeister George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic fame, who helped them get the Warner Bros. deal.

Troutman’s songs also had an impact on the street. “More Bounce to the Ounce, Pt. 1”, for example, hooked into the low-rider car culture. The song became something of a soundtrack for a bouncing low-rider. The rhythms of the music matched the bounce of the car.

Troutman was a smart businessman as well, understanding early that diversification was the key to get him through those fallow times that often occur in pop music. He and his brothers formed Troutman Enterprises, which started as a construction company building and rehabilitating hundreds of housing units, making home ownership possible for low-income residents of Dayton.

Many of those who worked for Troutman--building houses during the day--would be on the bandstand with him at night.

He chose to stay in Ohio instead of moving to Los Angeles or New York--the hubs of the music business--based on his experience of seeing members of another influential band, the Ohio Players, around his adopted home of Dayton.

“When they were famous, the Players never went to L.A. or New York; They stayed right here in Dayton. I can remember seeing them drive down the street in those new cars, seeing them living in those big houses,” he told The Times.

“You’d see them on ‘American Bandstand’ on Saturday, and then on Monday afternoon you’d see them on the street. That was a big inspiration.”

Troutman’s career continued to take divergent paths over the years. He did the music for the 1996 film “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” and his songs showed up regularly in films like “Boyz N the Hood,” (“More Bounce to the Ounce, Pt. 1”), “Menace to Society” (“Computer Love”) and “Selena” (“Doo Wa Ditty--Blow That Thing”).

He was also a successful producer, working with such artists as H-Town, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur.

Troutman said he was devastated by the shooting death of Shakur in 1996.

“He was so creative in the studio, very lyrical, like a poet,” Troutman said. “What a great loss.”


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