Best Of '99: Two Brothers In Zapp Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide

Police say Larry shot younger sibling Roger then turned gun on himself.

[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

was 54.

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"

movie.

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,"

Klein said.

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.)