Names like Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire and Gap Band are among the most well-known legends of funk. A band that people usually don’t think of is an Ohio-based group called Zapp. The band — who originated from Hamilton, Ohio — consisted of the four Troutman brothers: Larry, Terry, Lester and Roger, at its core. Bobby Glover was also an original member. There were many other non-core members of the band as well.
The person who stood out the most was Roger Troutman. He was an expert at utilizing an instrument called the talk box, which altered a singer’s voice to make it sound robotic. Troutman’s fun and energized flair made him a crowd favorite. Zapp made its own style of funk music and served as an inspiration for future artists, particularly those in the ‘90s west coast hip-hop movement.
The band first started playing at Ohio clubs throughout the ‘70s. In 1977, fellow Ohio natives Phelps Collins and “Bootsy” Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic attended a show and liked what they heard. Afterwards, they invited the band to their recording studio in Detroit. Zapp worked with George Clinton on a new song called “More Bounce to the Ounce,” which Clinton recommended to be shown to Warner Bros. Records. The company signed Zapp in late 1979. Zapp’s self-titled debut album was released in 1980. Due to the band’s separation from Clinton in 1981, Troutman had a bigger creative influence in Zapp’s remaining albums, which were less influenced by Parliament-Funkadelic and more geared towards Troutman’s talents on the talk box. These albums included “Zapp II” (1982), “Zapp III” (1983), “Zapp IV U” (1985) and “Zapp Vibe” (1989). The band’s music made people flock to the dance floor with songs like “More Bounce to the Ounce,” “Dance Floor” and “Funky Bounce.” They also released slow jams such as “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Ooh Baby Baby.”
Due to Troutman’s popularity, he pursued a successful solo career alongside his work with Zapp. He released four solo albums, including “The Many Facets of Roger” (1981), “The Saga Continues” (1984), “Unlimited!” (1987) and “Bridging the Gap” (1991). Hits from his solo albums include “So Ruff, So Tuff,” “Emotions” and “The Midnight Hour,” among others. Zapp & Roger had a major influence on future artists, particularly in ‘90s west coast hip-hop. Artists such as Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and DJ Quik worked with Troutman or sampled his works in their own music. DJ Quik admired Troutman a great deal, and made a tribute track devoted to him called “Roger’s Groove.” Zapp & Roger’s influences were also seen in the 1993 popular hood drama film “Menace II Society,” which features one of Zapp’s biggest hits “Computer Love” in one of the scenes.
Though Zapp & Roger didn’t receive the commercial success or acclaim funk groups such as Parliament-Funkadelic did, it was easily one of the greatest funk bands to have existed. The range from classic P-Funk to more relaxed Funk and R&B left an indelible mark on music and influenced an entire generation of future artists.