by Wonder B. and Funkateer Genius
|Interview with the late Roger Troutman at the Woodland Club, Giessen, Germany, February 3rd, 1996. Photos courtesy of André 'Azi' Zimmermann|
|from left to right: Genius, Roger, and Wonder B|
The One Nation P-Funk Page remembers the late, great Roger Troutman of Zapp with this interview which was first published in P-VIEWS zine no. 10, April 1996, with the French translation appearing in FUNK-U magazine no. 2, March, 1996. R.I.P. Roger.
Q:When did you first start performing with a band, we heard that you were once called Roger & The Veils and also Roger & The Hungry People.
RT: Yeah, actually between the age of 10 to 15, these were the names of my high school bands: Roger & The Veils. In fact Little Roger & The Fabulous Veils. That's how I really got started. Even back then Lester [Troutman] performed with me. After that I tried to diversify and make more money and I changed the name of the group to Roger & The Human Body and of course that evolved into what we're dealing with now, which is the group Zapp.
Q: Were there any recordings made by those early groups?
RT: No. Huh, in fact one little single but you know. I can't even remember the name of the label but it was a local thing. It was such a long time ago!
Q: In 1976 you recorded your first LP, Roger & The Human Body: Introducing Roger. Who were the players at that time?
RT: There was Bobby Glover, Beverly, Lester... that's the best I can remember.
Q: Why was the name of the band and the name of the album changed when it was reissued on the Soulciety label here in Germany? And how did you get connected with the label?
RT: Well, my brother Larry, who's my business manager, was approached by Soulciety Records and they made a deal. But that's such an amazing act of God! In 1976 when I recorded it, I had no idea that it would resurface some 17 years after that. Very, very heavy!
Q: You recorded Love T.K.O. [originally by Teddy Pendergrass] with The Human Body for the same label. Are there any plans for more songs or an album, or was this just a one off?
RT: That was just that. It came and went.
Q: You mentioned your brother Larry, what about your other brothers?
RT: In the beginning in our minds it seemed like we all should try to be stars. Solo albums and stuff. After a while we started to realize that what we needed to do was concentrate on me. We all thought that I could be like an enterprise, and we could make money and do the records. We aimed our focus at one thing. And it worked out so much better. Lester now does all the booking, and takes care in making sure everything goes from one point to the other in terms of geography, Terry is in charge of road managing, Larry is making sure that everything stays intact legally and financially.
Q: Isn't there another one named Rufus? And do you have any sisters?
RT: Well, Rufus takes care of our construction company back in Ohio. That's all his baby. And I have just one sister. Her name is Loretta. She works under Rufus. She's a licensed electrician. She never cared about singing. She always wanted to be in electronics. Like a tom boy, so to speak.
Q: In your career you did a lot of production work. Could you tell us about some of the names? Like whatever happened to New Horizons?
RT: They did two records with CBS and then their contract dissolved. The band split up, but Bart [Thomas] just came along with me. He decided that he wanted to pursue his musical carrier. He's been working with my group ever since. He's a very dedicated soldier type comrade musician.
Q: And Shirley Murdock?
RT: I did three records with Shirley for Elektra Records and then she became disenchanted. She felt that she wasn't receiving the kind of attention she wanted, because Elektra was so big. So we decided to take her from Elektra and signed her to Warner Bros. That's where she's at now. I'm presently working on her new record at the moment.
Q: Any release date foreseen?
RT: Well, as soon as I can stop playing Germany, Japan, and doing interviews... [Laughs.] No, I'm just working on it slowly, but Shirley is a dynamic singer.
Q: What about Bobby Glover?
RT: Bobby actually is featured on Love T.K.O. But basically Bobby got to the point where he was getting older and he got tired of all the traveling and he just decided, enough is enough, and he's just staying home raising his kids. He's a football coach. In fact he was a football star when I first met him. So he's gone back to his first love. But I'm planning on bringing Bobby back to work for me 'cos he's a great friend and a great singer, very dedicated.
Q: And then the last names on our list: Dick Smith, Sugarfoot [from the Ohio Players], and Jesse Rae.
RT: Jesse Rae, I'm just not sure. He kinda like vanished. He did a record with me, we had a lot of fun, it was very interesting.
Q: I heard he's back in Scotland now.
RT: As far as Sugarfoot, I'm talking to Sugarfoot right now 'cos I want him to do a cameo appearance on my next record. So Sugarfoot will resurface. As far as his solo career, I'm not sure. You can never tell what's gonna happen in this business. And Dick Smith is in Washington D. C. Basically his contract dissolved. But producing takes a lot out of you so after doing all these acts, I just said to myself "Stop, that's it, I'm through just for a minute, just let it be." I just needed to regroup. But what's odd is that lately, in the past couple of years, especially right now, a lot of hip-hop artists have been sampling my music. But quite a few have come to the realization that what they would want me to do is for me to do some songs for them. For instance there's a group called E-40 in the Bay Area who approached me to start a record from scratch. They had me produce a song for them called Scandalous which is a take off from Computer Love. And it seems to be doing pretty good in the US. And that's something I really expect to get back into. I just looked up and I was back into producing rap groups, instead of them sampling me. And the money comes directly to me. [Laughs]. And Dr. Dré and Tupac Shakur approached me a couple of months ago about doing a song with them. And it's exploding right now, doing phenomenal in the US, no. 1 video on MTV, and I certainly didn't expect that.
Q: That was one of our questions. Your involvement with rap, from back in the days with EPMD. Any future plans?
RT: Well, this is news, you're really gonna be the first ones to print this, because this deal I'm gonna tell ya about, just closed a few days ago. Let me do some history first. I also did a song with Snoop Doggy Dogg. Snoop has a group called L.B.C. (Long Beach Crew). I did a couple of songs with them. Then I was approached by Martin Lawrence and these movie producers who were doing a movie called A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, and they wanted me to do a song. So I did a song called Chocolate City.
Q: Is this the Parliament song?
RT: No, nothing to do with Parliament. It's the name of a club in the movie. Then they asked me to do the cover song with a group called H-Town. So I did a remake of Thin Line Between Love And Hate with H-Town and Shirley Murdock. And that's just been released in the States, and I understand that it's only been out a week and it's selling like mad, so it seems like it's gonna be a big hit. And once I did these two songs, the producers asked me to score the whole movie. You know the dramatic parts and stuff... [He starts singing.] Which is a great challenge. And we just finished that, and Martin Lawrence is very happy with that. So that was the history of what's happening now. What I just did is I put together a deal with Warner Bros. Where I'm gonna do another Greatest Hits album, but, it will feature four new songs and then the H-Town song will be on this record, probably California Love from Tupac also, and the L.B.C. song will be there too. Also there'll be a snippet of everything that I scored. So it'll be kind of a unique thing that you can only get when buying this record with four new songs. We have a lot of hopes. It'll probably have the long versions of Do It Roger, Grapevine..., some little extras thrown in as incentives. And think about it I may also put some of this stuff, too. [He's talking about the CD-Single from the 1976 LP on Soulciety that Genius brought with him.] I am also going to do two or three jazz selections on this album Greatest Hits no. 2. So it'll have a wide variety, which is a good idea, what do you think?
Q: Great! Specially with the long versions. You have covered a lot of classic soul songs in the past like Grapevine..., In The Midnight Hour. Which other favourite of yours would you like to do in the future? You once said in an interview, you wanted to do Funkadelic's Knee Deep.
RT: Yeah, I wanna do that. I've come to understand (I'm not a religious freak) that God is the Master, all glory comes to God; so what I'm thinking about right now is do a funky Roger type version of Oh Happy Day. [He starts to sing a slow groove, imitating a computerized rhythm! - Laughs.] With the Mississippi Mass Choir on background vocals and a couple of guttural singers in the front like Dick Smith to do the lead part. And I'm also going to do a very funky Roger type version of Livin' For The City [the Stevie Wonder song] with a very hard street type of rapper. [He starts to rap.] Both of those songs will be on this next Greatest Hits. But there maybe some more cover versions as well 'cos I've been contacted by another record company to do a whole album of songs, remakes, that would be called History of R'n'B. I would put together singers like Mary J. Blige and Shirley Murdock on one song, and Eddie Levert [O'Jays] with Johnny Gill [New Edition] and do classic R & B songs that everybody would like. You'd like Coolio and Kurtis Blow on a song like Beauty Is Only Skin Deep. But I'm dreaming down the road...
Q: How would you explain to someone who sees you for the first time the use of the talkbox? And is it the same device called voice bag, that was used by some guitar players in the 70's?
RT: Yes, it is the same thing. It was made famous by Joe Walsh [from the Eagles], and by Peter Frampton, and by Joe Perry [Aerosmith], and I would describe this thing as 'African robot'! 'A ghetto robot'! [Laughs.]
Q: We don't see any more of these talk boxes, So is there someone who's taking special care of yours, 'cos it must be hard to keep it in playing condition?
RT: Good question! Great question! Lester and I studied how the first company made one. We studied what the parts where, and we built our own. So there's nobody to maintain it but us and it is very very difficult to maintain. It's a constant headache! That's why I have two on stage so that I can switch if one breaks down. And there's two mechanisms within each one. So it's definitely a problem.
Q: And what about the Maxx Axe which you claimed getting from the Mothership in your song?
RT: Actually it's a true story. This was back in 1978. Bootsy had bought this guitar synthesizer. The first one ever made. Very bulky, very cumbersome, very hard to work, very new! He had bought one, and he couldn't get much sound of it. So he gave it to me as a gift, so I took it, I worked it and I wrote this song about it and I called it the Maxx Axe, the maximum guitar. And it came from the Mothership. Bootsy gave it to me.
Q: In connection to that, what's the state of your relationship with George Clinton now?
RT: We're the best of friends. It's difficult to elaborate on such a strange situation. I have nothing but love for George. We came from the beginning, and then we had some legal turbulence, but we hashed it all out and got everything straight. It's just difficult in this business. Money, money, money...
Q: How did Bootsy get involved in producing the first Zapp LP?
RT: Well it's kind of a two sided story. The first part was we grew up as kids, rivalry in playing the battle of the bands or talent shows. But then the second part, I was playing in a club in Ohio, and Bootsy's brother...
RT: Yeah, Catfish came to one of my shows. He was so impressed that he went back and told Bootsy "Look, we got to sign this guy up." So the next day, Bootsy called and asked me if I wanted to come to Detroit and do some recording. Of course I said "Definitely!" One thing after another, now you're looking at it. My life is a dream come true. A DREAM COME TRUE. So many blessings from God. To still be in the business after 20 years, and having the whole rap community embracing my sound and recycling it. When I did the stuff with Dr. Dré and Tupac, there were a lot of young rappers around, and they were looking mean. [He imitates their style of walking!] But they would come up to me "Hi, Mr. Troutman". That's just a great feeling 'cos they've got so much respect for the music, and for what I stand for, and the longevity. It's a rare thing in this business. The artists are like milk in the desert. It's difficult to last long, it's very tricky.
Q: Why was the band called Zapp, since it's your brother Terry's nickname?
RT: One day, I had just finished More Bounce, I was talking to George Clinton, he said "I've got Parliament, I've got Funkadelic, I've got two groups. Listen, I want to take you and use the name Roger & The Human Body and get you a contract with CBS records. But let's take this record More Bounce and take it to Warner Bros. under another name." I thought that it was a great idea. I was trying to think of a name. My brother was standing there and his nickname seemed to work with the sound of the music: Zapp!
© 1996, 1999, A Parliafunkadelicnet Thang