Today would mark the sixtieth birthday of talkbox funk legend Roger Troutman. It is only right that we take a look back and recall all that Troutman brought to funk, hip hop, and musicians everywhere by pushing boundaries with his own distinct experimentation with singing and emerging musical technology through the 80’s.
Roger made a huge impact on funk music, most distinctly for his use of a custom talkbox made by Electro Harmonix called the “Golden Throat.” Streaming his vocals through the talkbox and into his Yamaha DX100 FM synthesizer, he was able to produce vocal effects previously unheard of in popular music.
He was discovered by George Clinton, a master producer who saw a special talent in Roger and his brothers’ band The Human Body in the late seventies. George renamed them “Zapp”. The first label they signed to folded before they could release an album, which may have proven fortunate for the young men who then signed with Warner Brothers and found a huge hit with “More Bounce to the Ounce” which Bootsy produced.
Roger also plays on P-Funk’s 12th album The Electric Spanking of War Babies from ’81, the same year he landed a #1 hit on the R&B charts with a funky version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a song first made popular in 1967 with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and covered by Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, and more.
Zapp released a string of successful albums, marked numerically by their chronological releases, which are regarded highly in funk history. Many of the band’s albums went gold, though it is clear that the band’s highest points were through the 80’s, as well as Roger’s solo career peaking with his 1987 album Invincible! from which he showed off his sensitive side in the wooful hit “I Want To Be Your Man”.
Roger also produced platinum selling artist Shirley Murdock, and has been sampled heavily in the hip hop genre, perhaps one of his most popular spots being featured in the 1995 hit, Tupac’s “California Love” also featuring Dr. Dre. He also helped launch Snoop Dogg’s career in the early 90’s and played on several other hip hop albums.
In the early morning of April 25th, 1999, Roger was found struggling for life outside his Dayton Ohio recording studio. He was shot several times in the torso area and brought to the hospital, where, in surgery, he passed away. His brother was found in the same neighborhood with bullet wounds to the head, and a gun by his side. Although the tension between the brothers’ financial and creative paths was mounting, many suspect that there is more to the story. However, without any witnesses present, it has been assumed that this was a homicide-suicide case arising from conflict between the brothers.