"The Day The Funk Died (Master of the Talk Box)"

By Rev. Keith "Songlife" Crenshaw

To All My Friends, Family, and close Associates:
I'm gonna need you to patient with me on this one. They say writing is great therapy. This is my homage to one Mr. Roger B. Troutman, who passed away from this life on April 25th 1999. For those who don't know who he was, Roger was one of the greatest funk musicians to walk the planet, second only to George Clinton and/or James Brown, both of whom he deeply loved, respected and admired. Most folks don't know he was a multi-instrumentalist, playing the bass, keyboards, guitar (he could play rings around Prince or "0+>", whatever his name is now) but made popular that gadget from the early 70's, the Talk Box. Roger had mastered the Talk Box, like no one has and ever will. Stevie Wonder, Peter Frampton, and a host of other artists may have toyed around with it, but no one brought it to the forefront like Roger did.

Born in Hamilton, OH, a small town outside Dayton, November 29th 1952 to Rufus & Ruth Troutman, Roger has a host of other brothers and sisters, who all became a part of the Zapp sound. Even at the time of this writing, the Troutman brothers have always been a part of Troutman Enterprises, the business end of the Troutman music empire. Roger said he grew up listening to that other Ohio outfit, none other than the Ohio Players, with lead front man and guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, who himself was & is an outstanding blues/jazz guitarist. The vocal and guitar influence is obvious. Roger was an outstanding guitarist, his blues upbringing was evident on every Zapp album. (Every album had at least one instrumental blues and/or jazz cut, I'd always wished he'd do a jazz album). A lot could be said about Roger's early career, with Dr. Funkenstein & Bootsy, and his former Group The Human Body, but I'll cut right to 1980, my Jr. Hi-School year when I first heard "More Bounce To The Ounce." It was like nothing I heard before. No bridge, no phenomenal melody, just a funky riff with electronic claps turned up to a ridiculous level, a chanking, rhythmic guitar, a rambunctious arrangement....in other words, straight up Funk.
The P-Funk influence is obvious, with George Clinton himself suggesting the Talk Box. At that time, the Talk Box was almost rendered obsolete, but in the hands of Roger, it became another instrument, changing the face of popular black music forever. Other Funk bands, like One Way, cashed in on the Zapp sound later....and with the rise of New Jack Swing, a young upstart named Teddy Riley used an updated version of it called a "Vocoder." I read somewhere also where Roger said he wanted a "country preacher" effect, thus also the use of the talk box. From there came an album about one a year, some with the group name, some as solo projects, with himself just named as "Roger." (My favorites? I'd have to say two albums..."The Many Facets of Roger," and the "Zapp III" album. From 1980 to about 1986, Zapp was unstoppable...long after a lot of bands stopped playing heavy funk...even George Clinton and company. Whenever a Zapp album came out, you knew you were getting that same ol' foot stomping, party-rocking jams that you weren't afraid to sweat to. As the 80's wore on, the face of black music began to change, and the Zapp sound became somewhat quaint. The rise of Hip-Hop and New Jack Swing had forced the band to the background...but only for a while. Enter the early to mid 90's, with sampling technology, and even as of this writing, the Zapp sound is even stronger than ever, with a host of rappers and artists alike teaming up with Roger himself for song collaboration. The first time I saw Roger and Zapp live it was in LA, a small club on Crenshaw called Total Experience. Roger was good for playing very small venues...with him playing guitar in the aisles, taking people's drinks, sitting in women's laps (on more than a couple of occasions I saw Roger put his face in a woman's lap, lick his lips, came up and said, "Ya know, it don't taste too bad!)" It was all in good humor, of course. On one occasion in 1993, Roger came to my hometown Pasadena and played at the historic Raymond Theatre. After the show I took a picture and me with Roger. Unbelievably, he was about an inch shorter than me, about 5'8" but in typical Roger form. Always upbeat, humorous, ready to talk, down to earth, I even caught him asking some teen-agers "did you like the show?" Are you sure?" Geez, how humble can you get? I told him I play a little piano, and he signed my autograph "Mr. Keyboards." To this day, I'm tearing up my house trying to find that photo. That reminds me, the next time you see my Mom, tell her "shame on you" for recording over a Roger interview on BET, for some Oprah stuff....yuck! My sister thought I was off my rocker for going to see the Roger & Zapp show every year, until we all saw him again for the last time at Billboard Live club in West Hollywood. My sister then saw why I ran to see him every time he came to town. In the latter years, in the middle of the show, they would stop and give praise to Jesus, and have the audience give a big round of applause to God. For a few moments, it felt like "choich."

I guess now is a good place to tell you Roger and his brothers owned Troutman Enterprises & Construction, where they'd take run down, ghetto neighborhood apartments, have the tenants move out, re-do the carpet, plastering, plumbing, electricity, you name it, and then have the tenants move back in for the same rent. THE SAME RENT!!! Roger was very community minded, and often supported and invested in projects for urban cities. Unfortunately, the business became bankrupt, and it's my humble opinion that may have had some thing to do with the dispute between him and Larry, his older brother. Pardon the pun, but "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" that Troutman Enterprises had gone bankrupt. and were still in the process of liquidating the assets to pay of miscellaneous bills.

To conclude, I would be amiss not to mention Roger's musical influence on my life, directly and indirectly. Most of my close friends & family know I play keyboards and drums, with my rhythmic influence and approach to music taken directly from Roger (the only other influence that strong is Stevie Wonder, but there's not enough ram on a hard drive for me to get into that!!!!). I'm not ashamed to play Roger's music with my kids, who are 5, 4 and 9 months old. How many times have I put on Zapp on a Saturday afternoon and the whole family starts dancing? Roger is who indirectly got me into DJ'ing. There are some funk jams no DJ doesn't leave the house with, "Atomic Dog" and "More Bounce." So, I finally say farewell to the "Many Facets of Roger": Musician, Master of the Talk Box, Showman, Ladies Man, Son, Father, Brother, Humanitarian, Businessman, Entrepreneur, Friend, Celebrity, Christian, but probably most notably, a bonafied Funkateer.

Dedicated to the Troutman Family, and every Funkateer who believed Roger's music.
May Roger Troutman rest in peace, for "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of his Saints." -Psalms 116:15

In Sincere Love and Appreciation,
Reverend Keith Andre Crenshaw
April 29, 1999

  • The ZAPP Discography - By Roger Troutman!
  • 1996 Interview with Roger -Courtesy of Funk-U Magazine & P-VIEWS
  • Ode to Roger - By Rev. Keith "Songlife" Crenshaw
  • Remembering Roger - By Anthony Smith

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