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The Flashlight
Listing of Past Flashlight Features
"So Ruff, So Tuff"
The Story of Roger Troutman & Zapp

Zapp in the early 80s with Roger Troutman in the front.


The following article was written in 1996 by British cartoon artist and writer Howard "Funk Priest" Priestley whose artwork includes CD covers for Mallia Franklin, Mutiny, and Rick Gardner.

Sixteen years ago, in 1980, an Empire was crumbling: George Clinton's P-Funk Organization. Yet there were still P-Funk sounds blasting their way out of the fortress that sent shockwaves through the recording industry. Towards the latter end of 1980 a record was about to reach the top of the US soul charts with a sound that had a far-reaching impact still capable of stopping people in their tracks as we move towards the end of another decade, a sound that may not have been unique even at its conception but that became uniquely one man's: Roger Troutman.

In 1996 Roger is ever present on a slew of soundtracks and gets into the picture dueting with former protegee Shirley Murdock on the track "Chocolate City" from the Thin Line Between Love And Hate soundtrack. While his presence can be felt throughout the album, in 1993 he was genuinely surprised to find his debut single "More Bounce To The Ounce" re-released by Warner Brothers to a hungry new audience. However, for anyone that knows Roger's music, that surprise shouldn't be surprising at all!

After all, besides the obvious James Brown and P-Funk sampling that had formed the blueprint for the whole Hip Hop culture, the most easily recognizable and successful samples came from the man himself: Roger. Ask EPMD about their debt to him or just go back and listen to Ice Cube's powerful use of Roger's "So Ruff, So Tuff" on his "How To Survive In South Central" track from Boyz In The Hood (1991) to see how timeless his sound has become.

While Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia could arguably lay claim to the birth of soul music, Ohio could be hailed as the place of origin for funk with classic bands like the Ohio Players, Bootsy's Rubber Band, The Deele (the group from which L. A. and Babyface would come from), Dayton, Lakeside, Slave, and of course Zapp.

To acknowledge Roger Troutman we must go back to Cincinnatti, Ohio, where the four Troutman brothers, Roger, Larry, Lester, and Terry (a.k.a. "Zapp"), hung out with Bootsy Collins. Now, we don't have to explain the connection between Bootsy and George Clinton do we? Anyway, Zapp, the band, came to the attention of the Funk Overlord who returned to watch them play time and time again. Giving them his support, he helped the fledging P-Funkers to gain in confidence and Clinton's recording budget plan and the contractual agreement was to not bother him until the product was ready.

Bootsy was given the job of co-producing the group and in 1980 Zapp's debut set was released. It had been four years in the making with Clinton's involvement stretching back to1976. The wait was worth it, and the result was phenomenal with the single "More Bounce To The Ounce" reaching the top of the charts. The debut self-titled album was only kept from the number one spot by, first, The Jacksons and then Stevie Wonder.

In addition to the Troutmans, the rest of the group Zapp comprised of Bobby Glover, vocals, Greg Jackson, keyboards, Jeanette Boyce, vocals, Eddie Barber, trumpet, and Jerome Dickinson on saxophone. Although Zapp Troutman gave his nickname to the group it was already obvious who the leader was: Roger. Incidentally Roger Troutman himself played guitar, harmonica, talk box, bass, all keyboards, flute, violin, tuba, and french horn.

At that moment, the band had been touring with The Commodores but had previously been on the road as Roger & The Veils, Roger & The Hungry People, and, even as Zapp was forming its own direction, as Roger's Human Body, a pre-Zapp creation that remained an important, if not fully-realized, extension of the Troutman plan.

As 1980 ended, Warner Bros. (Zapp's label), Polygram, and CBS records all collaborated in a coordinated marketing effort under the banner "Tis The Season To Be Funky." The campaign would focus on P-Funk acts such as Parliament, The Sweat Band, Phillipe Wynne, Bootsy, and the new kids on the block, Zapp. Meanwhile, Roger Troutman was definitely in favor with his inclusion in a 48-hour long studio jam between himself, Sly Stone, Bootsy, and Clinton, which resulted in four tracks that would never see the light of day.

Despite the stunning debut of "More Bounce to the Ounce," Zapp's follow-up single "Be Alright" failed to reach the top twenty in March of '81, and by late July the rumours of the fall of the P-Funk empire were beginning to break -- Clinton's Los Angeles-based office closed and there were no schedules for his own CBS-distributed Uncle Jam label, which was going to be the home of Roger's, now disembodied, Human Body.

In late August of '81, Roger released a solo effort, his unique rendition of the classic "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (recently reissued as part of Ice Cube's soundtrack to the 1995 film Friday). Incidentally, at the beginning of October his solo album The Many Facets Of Roger was issued. With Roger's vocoder vocals very much at the forefront, "Grapevine" was about to hit the top twenty as the album entered the charts at number 65. Soon the charts saw the album rising to number 11 with the single at number 10. And almost a year to the day that "More Bounce" had hit the number 1 spot, The Many Facets Of Roger topped the album chart. Personally things couldn't be better. The year ended with the follow up single "Do It Roger" entering the chart at number 95 before reaching number 16.

Within the Many Facets of Roger sleeve notes, Troutman paid tribute to George Clinton:
"In my years in show business I have yet to meet a gentleman who has shown such a divine interest in his fellow man. It seems as if George Clinton, no matter how much success he realizes, always remembers how important it is to be kind to other people and how to reach back into the community and do what he can in any way he can for others. His humility never ceases to surprise me and his ability to radiate love, respect, and understanding never ceases to inspire me. I really hope be lives to be a million years old and may God bless him and keep him for he is indeed the "Father of Funk", George I love you, and thanks. "

The '81 Blues & Soul Poll found Zapp unplaced amongst the top groups, a reflection, no doubt, on the politics that had marred their explosive start. It wasn't long before Roger and Zapp decided, despite having the utmost respect for Clinton, that they were going down a road leading nowhere. Legal battles ensued when Roger broke away from the P-Funk ranks, taking with him masters of new material. The problem seemed to be that the verbal agreements made by Clinton to Troutman weren't solid enough with no signed papers swapping in either direction. Also, the Troutmans had been together prior to becoming part of the P-Funk Thang and wanted to keep their own separate identity going in their music and business interests.

Clinton's lawyers put in a $50 million compensatory and punitive damages claim with accusations that Warner Brothers had atttempted to undermine his relationship with both Zapp and Bootsy and that the company had failed to pay Clinton his agreed upon $50,000 monthly payment for June and July. A restraining order had already been put on Roger's solo release as well as on the soon to be released Zapp II.

The times were changing for Clinton -- the much publicized Uncle Jam Label folded after three releases, none of which were Troutman's. (Webmasters note: Many say that the Many Facets album was originally supposed to have been released on Uncle Jam records.) This only made Troutman's decision to leave seem like the right one.

In July 1982, new Zapp product arrived in the form of the single "Dance Floor." The voice box was again prominent in the song, and by the end of August, Roger's formula of vocoder funk had proved successful again with "Dance Floor" reaching the number 1 slot and Zapp II entering the album chart at 22.

Outside of the music the Troutman Brothers were also giving back to the local community, thus fullfilling a dream they'd always had. Money recieved from the band's successes made it possible for them to launch Troutman Construction. The company, headed by a fifth brother, Rufus Troutman, was based in Dayton, Ohio and employed fifty people. The company was keen to renovate old property and re-house poor people.

During that time, George Clinton had finally settled his differences with Warner Brothers, part of the settlement being to drop any claim on the recording contracts of Zapp and Roger. Meanwhile, Roger was preparing his own mini-empire with new product being prepared on New Horizons and singer Dick Smith who's Initial Thrust album was scheduled for a Summer '83 release. Other releases included Zapp III and another Roger solo album entitled The Saga Continues. On top of this, he was rebuilding The Human Body into a vocal group in a Temptations mold.

Meanwhile, November saw more chart action with "Dance Floor" being followed by their infectious harmonica-led "Doo Wa Ditty" and later by the slower "Do You Really Want An Answer" in February of '83 that sank without a trace at number 97.

As promised, New Horizons released a summer single, "Your Thing Is My Thing," which recalled "More Bounce To The Ounce." Dick Smith released "Tobacco Road" as a single and the album Initial Thrust gained good reviews. It would be the beginning of September before the main Zapp entourage would see the chart again with the familiar sounding "I Can Make You Dance" announcing the new Zapp III set. Both sets, followed their predecessors up the charts; at the same time, Troutman's New Horizons had their debut album Something New issued by Columbia.

In February 1984, the first signs of life from the revamped Human Body were heard in the form of "As We Lay" on Bearsville Records, from the album Make You Shake It which was released in March. Neither were groundbreaking releases, but were firmly entrenched in the now familiar Troutman groove.

It would be August before anyhing else fresh from the Troutman camp was heard. It was in the shape of Zapp vocalist Bobby Glover's solo debut Bad Bobby Glover on Columbia featuring the single "What Kind Of Lady." Unfortunately, neither did anything commercially despite critical praise. The same applied for the second album by New Horizons in October of '84. Suggestions were being made that the Zapp sound was perhaps overplayed. By now, people either loved Roger's voice box or wanted it ripped out!

Almost a year passed before more fresh sounds emerged: this time it was from the Ohio Players' lead guitarist Leroy Bonner, better known to the funk world as Sugarfoot. His Warner Brothers outing Sugar Kiss again met with approval from the critics but not the record buyers. The whole set had a strange, ethereal quality to it, and yet it failed to grab attention.

The time was not only right but necessary for Roger to take control of his organization once again. The Zapp formula seemingly wasn't working for his offshoot groups, and so in November 1984, Zapp IV was launched with a new line-up and the "Back To Basics" tour. Musical differences within the group led to a split in the ranks; although the nucleus, the Troutmans, remained united. The same quality and formula was present for the new album and the rewards were a top ten position.

Zapp IV opened with the single "It Doesn't Reallly Matter," followed by another later single "Computer Love," which featured the vocals of one Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band along with a new leading lady of the group: Shirley Murdock. The Gap Band and the Zapp band had been on tour together when Roger invited Charlie to listen to a new track. This was the first time Troutman had put a ballad together and was nervous about the result. Wilson offered to help out and went into the studio to improvise lyrics over the track. It only took two tries on to arrive at the finished item. When it was released, "Computer Love" featured "More Bounce To The Ounce" as the B-side, possibly in an attempt by Warners to ensure a chart place. Unfortunately when the single did start to make major inroads in the chart Charlie Wilson' s voice had to be removed for contractual reasons thus halting the track's assault on the top position.

The following year Troutman's chart luck was to change for his cohorts with the continuing rise of Shirley Murdock, former backing vocalist for Roger and Zapp since 1984 and now signed to Elektra where her debut US single "No More" and British single "Truth Or Dare" were eagerly awaited. Furthermore, the album contained an updated version of The Human Body's "As We Lay," which was co-written by another former Ohio Player, Billy Beck. Murdock was able to inject another dimension to Troutman's music and the haunting qualities so prevalent on Sugarfoot's release were coming to the fore in Murdock's catalogue. On the strength of her success Murdock prepared to leave Zapp to be replaced by Wanda Ash. The Roger Troutman connection would not be severed though and it would take two attempts for the album to really take hold. That was on the strength of the release of "As We Lay" that catapulted Shirley Murdock into the top five Soul singles chart while her debut album climbed to number 7. Her career was taking off in a major way now with the separation allowing her to tour with Luther Vandross to rave notices.

This was now the beginning of 1987. The year would see even more success for Zapp. Thanks to Roger's production skills, Shirley Murdock was turning Gold! Soon he turned his talents to Scotland for a rather less orthodox project by Jesse Rae. The Space Cadets, a band comprising former P-Funkers Tyrone Lampkin and Bernie Worrell also had in their ranks Scotland's Jesse Rae who's writing credits included "Inside-Out", a major hit for Odyssey. WEA released "The Thistle" by Rae with musical input by Roger and Lester Troutman as welI as the aforementioned Bernie Worrell and other P-Funkers Ray Davis and Mike Hampton.

June saw the announcement that Zapp were to play the Hammersmith Odeon, London, for two nights. This was an eagerly awaited event as Troutman had always considered the band to be a live one. In fact, way before Clinton took interest in Zapp, they were doing plenty of tours without a record release.

At the end of September '87 it was Roger's turn to go the solo route one more time with the release of "I Want To Be Your Man" a track that musically carried on from where "Computer Love" had left off. "I Want To Be Your Man" would not be halted by any contractual problems and, although it took its time getting there, sat at the top of the soul charts in early 1988 while his new Unlimited album climbed to number 4. The new set included a Zapped out-version-of the James Brown classic "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" as well as the rap style "Been This Way Before."

Roger was never far away from the people. Even the facts that he now had his own Sound Studio in Dayton and a list of outstanding musical achievements couldn't keep Roger away from his public in whatever form it took. The old Motown type system of taking songs to the street for advice served Roger well too. He would drive down to the shopping mall with a cassette in his pocket and try new tracks on any young person that he thought would be into the music and take their opinions.

More UK dates were announced for March and later postponed to the end of April while the company was readying the release of Shirley Murdcock's second album for a July release. When it came, it didn't disappoint. Despite her pursuit of solo success Murdock was still firmly connected to the Troutmans, and the style that had already been present on her debut set was simply emphasized to greater effect on A Woman' s Point Of View. Again, Billy Beck from The Ohio Players proved himself a master ballad writer with the first single offering "Husband" reaching the top section of the Soul Chart. The album itself would reach the top twenty. Despite earlier projects' failures to chart, there was now a definite three-way success story for Troutman with Shirley Murdock as a key player. As well as being instrumental in deveIoping the concept of the album, Murdock also co-wrote and produced.

By September it was the turn of the founding group to take center stage with their fifth offering, Zapp Vibe, which featured the lead single, a reworking of The Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby" with vocals shared by Roger Troutman and Shirley Murdock. The Ohio Players connection was also in evidence with a remake of The Players' "Fire."

Once again Roger took the time out to give thanks to George Clinton in Zapp Vibe's liner notes:
"Thanks also to George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. No matter our differences, I still love and respect you both. I am ever grateful for your faith in my talent. May all good come to you."

Clinton was even mentioned in the track "Back To Bass-iks" that heavily featured the bass vocals of former Parliament vocalist Ray Davis. Davis's contribution to Clinton's own "Atomic Dog" was revisited here. All was done in good fun. More seriously, though, was the lack of interest in the release. Both the single and album hardly put a dent in the charts.

Better news was around the corner in the form of Shirley Murdock whose third and last album Let There Be Love was due. By now it was mid '91 and the album had been ready for a year. The delay in release came through a reshuffle within her label Elektra. What was considered a good album was thrown back at Murdock and Troutman and a great album was requested. The album finally reached number 22 on the charts. But by now, Elektra was rich with female singers like Anita Baker, Natalie Cole, and Lisa Fischer, and somehow Shirley Murdock's haunting melodies and sensitive productions were allowed to fade into the shadows.

Roger Troutman, himself, could feel proud of the fact that, although it wasn't his own album, the soundtrack to Boyz In The Hood sat on the top of the popular music album charts with the opening track being the aforementioned "How To Survive In South Central" by Ice Cube (featuring samples lifted from Roger's music). The Ice Cube connection would also be found on Troutman's final, original solo album to date, Bridging The Gap, which was released towards the end of '91 with Sir Jinx from The Lench Mob adding to the opening track "Everybody Get Up". Sadly, the album leveled out at number 44 and dropped out of view soon after. As with Murdock's "Let There Be Love," the newest Roger release had been ready since January 1990, but the company had asked for it to be resubmitted for alterations. Despite Roger now having a God-like status among the new generation of rappers, the record company executives seemed to be calling the shots.

Roger Troutman, who had been used to staying in and around Ohio, doing his own thing and staying Mr. Average within the comfort of his community -- a community that he had helped to develop -- was now doing something alien by commuting to Los Angeles, living in hotel rooms and travelling to work. But still Troutman Enterprises retained the same address and phone number as they did back in the '80's. It was proof, if proof was needed, of Roger Troutman's solid, honest, and down to earth roots.

Towards the latter part of 1993, Warner Brothers released the collection: All The Greatest Hits a combined Roger/Zapp set that reached number 9, while its "Mega Medley" hit the singles chart. It was later followed by a new number, "Slow & Easy," that would eventually reach number 18 in the soul singles chart. Furthermore, Troutman-related material emerged with NKRU's version of ''Computer Love" finding a release on Kaper Records as well as a chart position.

So there we have it. By no means the whole story because, as yet, the story has no conclusion and even if Roger Troutman decided to hang up his many instruments the technology and sound that he has become so much a part of will keep him up there with the other greats for many years to come.

*****

See recommended Roger and Zapp albums here.

Webmaster's note:
Roger Troutman and his brother Larry passed away on April 25, 1999. The following account is courtesy of the Electronic Urban Report:

"The music industry and funk fans worldwide are mourning the death of funkmiester supreme Roger Troutman, on Sunday, April 25, 1999 in Dayton, Ohio. Roger, a member of the duo Roger and Zapp, was killed in what authorities believe was a murder suicide by his brother, Larry Troutman. Reports say Roger was found in back of his recording studio and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital where he died of multiple gunshot wounds while in surgery. His brother was found several blocks away in a car (police say matched the description of one leaving the crime scene) with a bullet in his head. "

"Services for the Troutmans (were) held (Saturday, May 1st, 1999) in Dayton Ohio. Recapping the story...Roger Troutman, 47, was shot and killed by older brother, Larry, 54, last Sunday morning. Larry later shot himself in the head, police say. At this point, it's not exactly clear why Larry shot Roger, but stories are beginning to surface that say Roger was in the process of pulling away from Larry, who acted as his manager, and going in a different direction. Supposedly, this was not something that Larry wanted to hear and for several months there had been friction between the two. Speculation is that this is what ultimately led to the killing. But as we've said, Roger affected a lot of people through his music and personally. He made a point to literally reach out and touch his fans... "


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