[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, April 26.]
In an apparent murder-suicide that has baffled family, friends and
investigators, Roger Troutman, leader of the funk band Zapp, was shot to
death Sunday morning by his brother and bandmate Larry Troutman, who then
ended his own life, according to police.
"Man, nobody really knows [why] all we know is that two people that
we really love are now dead," Zapp bandmate Bigg Robb said.
The brothers were found two blocks apart Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, according
to police spokesperson Det. Carol Thomas. Roger was still alive when
police found him around 7:30 a.m. behind a recording studio he co-owned.
He died later in surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital and Health Center. He was 47.
Larry, meanwhile, was found dead in a 1998 Lincoln four-door sedan, with
a gunshot wound to his head that police believe was self-inflicted. He
Police are investigating Roger's death as a homicide, but they are still
trying to determine whether Larry's death was a suicide, Thomas said.
"On initial investigation, though, it does appear that Larry Troutman
shot his brother," he said. Police are conducting tests to confirm that
the same gun was fired in both shootings.
Zapp included Roger, Larry, their brothers Terry and Lester Troutman,
and the group's M.C., Bigg Robb. The group was formed in 1978 and scored
hits such as "More Bounce to the Ounce" (1980) (RealAudio
excerpt) and "Dance Floor" (1982) (RealAudio
excerpt). Roger later had a successful solo career, leading
the band to change its name to Zapp & Roger.
Thomas, who called the deaths "baffling," said police are questioning
family members to help determine a possible motive in the case.
But Bigg Robb said Monday (April 26) that friends and family were at a
loss to explain the tragedy.
Bigg Robb, who declined to give his birth name, said the group had just
performed last week in Charlotte, N.C., and Roger had given no indication
of a dispute with his brother Larry, who had retired from the band.
"This whole thing is such a shock; we couldn't imagine this in a million
years," he said.
Robb said Roger was proud when Zapp's music was embraced by hip-hop
artists, beginning with EPMD's 1988 song "You Gots to Chill," which
sampled Zapp's "More..."
In 1996 Roger contributed his trademark, vocoderlike voicebox sound to
rapper Dr. Dre's duet with Tupac Shakur, "California Love," Robb said.
It had originally been intended as a Dr. Dre solo track, but when Death
Row Records head Marion "Suge" Knight heard it, he suggested it be used
for a planned duet with Shakur, Robb said.
R&B legend Stevie Wonder originally inspired Troutman to sing through
the voicebox, a plastic device, also known as a golden throat or talkbox,
which creates a robotlike vocal sound, Robb said. "Roger was influenced
by Stevie Wonder he saw Stevie Wonder years ago playing the voicebox
on television, and he took the thing and modernized it. Roger was the
undisputed master of it," he explained.
Howie Klein, president of Reprise Records, which was Roger's label both
with Zapp and as a solo act, said he considered the frontman "a friend
and a really great guy."
According to Klein, Roger Troutman had been working on a new album, which
he planned to call Zapp and Friends, and had recently recorded a
cover of the '60s song "(I Am) Superman," made famous by Athens, Ga.,
superstars R.E.M., for the soundtrack to the now-aborted new "Superman"
Roger "was a great human being with an incredibly creative mind
someone who always had ideas and was willing to work with other artists
on those ideas. ... I think his sound will really be what he's remembered
for; it was a totally unique sound that influenced a lot of people,"
Bigg Robb described Roger Troutman as "a loveable person," adding that
"he never did anything to hurt anybody."
"It's a bad ending to a great life," he said.
(Senior Writer Gil Kaufman contributed to this report.)