Funk innovator killed 20 years ago in one of Dayton’s most shocking murders

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2019 @ 7:00 AM
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 8:11 AM

Lester and Terry "Zapp" Troutman sit down with What Had Happened Was host Amelia Robinson.

It’s been two decades since Roger Troutman, one of Dayton’s most gifted and well-known musicians, tragically died.

Troutman, an R&B recording artist who pioneered the famed funky “Dayton sound,” was shot several times in the alley behind his music studio on Salem Avenue 20 years ago on April 25, 1999. 

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He died at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The gunman, the musician’s older brother Larry, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot in the driver’s seat of a black Lincoln on Harvard Boulevard.

 
Roger Troutman photographed in his recording studio in 1988. Troutman, who died 20 years ago, pioneered the funky “Dayton sound,” and founded the Zapp band with his family. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS(Staff Writer)

The shocking incident stunned music lovers around the world. Troutman and his family, originally from Hamilton, had formed the Zapp band in 1978, propelling millions to the dance floor with hits like “More Bounce To The Ounce,” “I Can Make You Dance” and “Computer Love.”

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In a 1988 interview with the Dayton Daily News, Roger Troutman recalled his start in the music business and the lesson his father, Rufus, taught him.

Roger Troutman in an undated publicity photo probably from the early 1980s. Troutman, a musician and leader of the band Zapp, was shot and killed by his brother, Larry Troutman, on April 25, 1999. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE PHOTO(Staff Writer)

As a 13-year-old, Troutman was a budding musician setting up gigs at sock hops and community functions. He asked his father for a guitar but was told he had to learn to play one first. He did, learning his father’s favorite songs. Rufus Troutman made the same request whenever his son asked for another instrument.

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Troutman recalled his father later told him, “I did that so you would understand that instruments are merely a vehicle to express what’s inside you. If you had just picked up one instrument, it would have limited you.”

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Troutman’s musical ability was never constrained. He was the multi-instrumentalist singer and arranger for Zapp and was known for his versatility using a vocoder “talk box” to create computerized vocals.

Troutman later went onto a solo career performing under the name “Roger,” and had a No. 1 hit in 1987 with “I Want to be Your Man.” In 1996, he collaborated with Dr. Dre on Tupac Shakur’s Grammy-nominated song “California Love.”

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The funeral for Roger and Larry Troutman drew an estimated 3,000 people to the Solid Rock Church in Monroe.

Relatives, fans and colleagues including the Gap Band, Bootsie Collins, Shirley Murdock and members of funk bands The Ohio Players and Lakeside, paid tribute to the music innovators.

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Roger Troutman was a multi-instrumentalist singer and arranger for Zapp and was known for his versatility using a vocoder “talk box” to create computerized vocals. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS(Staff Writer)

Warner Brothers records, Roger’s longtime recording label, sent a pair of red, guitar-shaped floral displays and Rufus Troutman III, a nephew of the brothers who had performed with Zapp, played a variation of “Amazing Grace,” using Roger’s trademark “talk box.”

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Roger Troutman, circa 1996. He was a renowned funk-music innovator who recorded with his brothers in the band Zapp in the early 80s. The band was probably best known for its use of the vocoder or talkbox, a device that makes vocals sound robotic. The group’s music has been sampled on dozens of hit rap singles.(Staff Writer)

Roger Troutman and Zapp’s musical legacy lives on. A sculpture honoring him was dedicated in 2012 on the former site of the Troutman Recording Studio near Salem Avenue and Catalpa Drive.

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The sound sculpture, created by Dayton artist and musician Michael Bashaw, incorporates clock chimes and is named for and tuned to Troutman’s hit “I Can Make You Dance” with Zapp & Roger.

Artist Michael Bashaw adjusts cables on his 26 foot tall sound sculpture that can produce a few bars of Roger Troutman's song "I Can Make You Dance" when moved by the wind. The sculpture, named after the song, was dedicated Tuesday on the site of the former Troutman Sound Labs at the northwest corner of Catalpa Drive and Salem Avenue. Staff photo by Jim Witmer(Jim Witmer)

In 2002, Lester and Terry Troutman released “Zapp VI: Back By Popular Demand” and the band continues to perform across the country. Last fall, Zapp celebrated the release of a tribute album, “Zapp VII: Roger & Friends,” at the Schuster Center in Dayton.

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Lester (left) and Terry (right) Troutman of ZAPP band stopped by our offices for our first sit-down interview with them in decades. ZAPP is dropping a new album and will be performing Oct. 26 at the Schuster Performing Arts Center. AMELIA ROBINSON/STAFF(Staff Writer)

“I thought we would never, ever play again,” Lester Troutman said last year in an episode of the “What Had Happened Was” podcast with Dayton Daily News columnist Amelia Robinson.

 

“I would be lying to you and the fans if I said ‘well, we never had problems’ or ‘we never tried to do other things.’ But the bond is what kept us together,” he said. “I can’t even imagine life without doing this.”

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April 30, 1999---story by Franklin---Memorial Service for Roger and Larry Troutman at Shiloh Misssionary Baptist Church on Fairbanks Ave in Dayton. Shirly Murdock-DeGroat leads congregation in prayer.(WALLY NELSON)