Lester Troutman Sr. says a dream happened.
“Some brothers got together from Hamilton, Ohio and started talking about the dream that they had, and they started chasing their dream,” the drummer and Zapp band leader said. “Somehow before it was too late, they caught the dream. Once they caught the dream, God just made it explode and the dream came to reality.”
The dream nearly fell apart at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, April 25, 1999.
It was on that day that Larry Troutman shot his brother, talkbox pioneer Roger Troutman, outside of Roger Troutman’s Dayton music studio.
The music did not stop on that tragic day for the band that Roger Troutman founded with his brothers, Lester, Larry and Terry.
We had a chance to catch up with Lester and Terry last fall just before Zapp celebrated the release of its latest album, “Zapp VII: Roger & Friends,”with a show at Dayton’s Schuster Center on Oct. 26, 2018.
ONE OF DAYTON’S MOST NOTORIOUS MURDERS
After shooting his brother, Larry Troutman was later found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Roger Troutman, who also had a solo career, died at an area hospital.
Following the lead of the Ohio Players, Zapp was among the bands that helped Dayton earn Dayton’s Land of Funk nickname in the 1970s and ’80s. Other bands include The Ohio Players, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, Faze-O, Heatwave, Sun, Slave and Lakeside.
In his early 40s when the apparent murder-suicide claimed his brothers’ lives, Lester Troutman said he thought all was lost.
Not only were his beloved brothers gone, but so he thought was the band they created together.
“I thought we would never, ever play again,” Lester said when he sat down for an episode of the “What Had Happened Was” podcast with this writer. He was joined by his younger brother Terry “Zapp” Troutman (talkbox/keyboards/bass).
This was the first time in decades we had the opportunity to sit down with the band members for an interview.
WHERE DID THE BAND’S NAME COME FROM?
The band’s name comes from Terry’s nickname. Funk legend George Clinton encouraged them to take it on just before the band struck gold with 1980’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” from its self-titled album “Zapp.”
Other hits for the band include “Doo Wa Ditty,” “I Can Make You Dance,” “Heartbreaker” and “Computer Love.”
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.
“Zapp VII: Roger & Friends” is the legendary band’s first album since 2001’s “Zapp VI: Back by Popular Demand” and is a tribute to Roger Troutman.
In the 1990s, Roger Troutman lent his computerized vocals to popular songs for 2Pac (”California Love” the video for which he appeared in); H-Town (”A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”), Johnny Gill (”It’s Your Body”) and Eazy-E (”Eternal E”). His music also appeared in recordings by Snoop Dogg, Biggie Smalls, Redman, Blackstreet and MC Hammer.
HOW DID ZAPP PICK UP THE PIECES?
Following Larry and Roger’s death, Terry and Lester say they received an outpouring of love from fans through calls, mail and fax.
“The question they kept asking was, ‘When are you guys coming to the city?’ ‘When are you coming to LA?’ ‘When are you coming to Phoenix?’ ‘When are you going to come to Chicago?’ ‘When are you coming to New York?’ When are you coming to Paris?’” Lester said. “They never stopped.”
The band returned to the stage for the first time following Roger’s death during two sold-out shows in August 1999 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
Lester says love has kept the music alive in the nearly 20 years since his family’s tragedy.
“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.”
THE MUSIC KEEPS ‘GETTING BETTER’
He says the band’s music, like the most successful products in America, has gotten better while staying true to itself.
“It’s more refined now; it’s better,” he said.
Lester’s son Lester Troutman Jr. was a producer on the new album, which includes posthumous performances from Roger Troutman. Rapper Snoop Dogg and Cincinnati funk legend Bootsy Collins are also featured.
Lester Troutman Sr. is proud of the result.
With past projects, Lester Troutman Sr. said he was super critical throughout the entire process.
This time around, he heeded advice from Bar-Kays lead singer Larry Dodson and kept his mouth shut.
“It took me six months to digest that, to not be able to play what I wanted to play, say what I wanted to say, mix it the way I wanted to mix it. I had to listen to what somebody else said,” he said. “It was so much easier.”
The end result is something he says he is proud to share.
“I love it. I think it is wonderful. I think everybody should check it out,” he said.
Lester said he and his brothers have had amazing opportunities and have played around the world with a list of entertainers that included Prince, Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson, with whom Roger Troutman made a record.
The dream came true and can come true for others like Lester and his brothers.
“Don’t stop. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that your dream is just a dream. Where do dreams come from? They come from God. God will put a dream in your mind, and he will put that desire in your heart,” he said. “When the success comes, you won’t even be able to recognize it because you will be too busy doing what God put on your heart and your mind. You will look back and say, ‘Oh my God, you mean to tell me I did that! Wow.’”
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