By Sarah Bennett
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By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
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By Alex Distefano
I was stoked when I saw that Zapp (sometimes known as Roger & Zapp) would be playing the Galaxy Concert Theater this week, both because the group's crazed, sci-fi funk is like a multilayered, electronic orgy and because namesake Roger Troutman is among the most unusual subjects I'd ever spoken with. Troutman once told me his two biggest influences were James Brown and Darth Vader, and he sounded like it, too. Another time, he did several minutes of an interview speaking in Donald Duck talk—intelligibly, no less. Yet another time, he spoke only through a vocoder, which made him sound like a robot on X. He once told me he was 937 billion years old and then decided a few minutes later that he was only 2.
Bizarre, wildly energetic and comical, Troutman represented everything wonderful about cutting-edge funk, both in his music and personality. You gotta love a guy who so adamantly refused to take himself—or the world—seriously.
But when I tried to look him up recently, I discovered that his brother—and fellow Zapp member—Larry shot Troutman to death in April 1999 and then turned the gun on himself.Holy shit! How did I miss this?? Was it even reported on the news??
Zapp wasn't as widely known or appreciated in the mainstream as fellow funkateers J.B. or George Clinton's P-Funk, but in many ways, it was no less influential. The group's heavily produced and synthesized sound served as a scaffold between the hard but fundamentally organic grooves of P-Funk and the pure studio concepts of hip-hop. Troutman also produced and recorded with a host of hip-hop's biggest names, such as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and H-Town. In fact, the only time Troutman ever dropped the clown act during our conversations was when we spoke shortly after Tupac's murder. "That was devastating—devastating," he said. "When Tupac got shot, I knew it was coming, but I didn't think those gunshot wounds would take his life. What a great loss. He was so creative in the studio; he could just walk in and rhyme a song on anything. He was a great artist, very lyrical, like a poet."
It's a horrible irony that Troutman himself was murdered just a few years later. So, Zapp goes on without front man Roger—or percussionist Larry, for that matter—and will perform at the Galaxy on Sunday night. This, of course, elicits mixed feelings. Zapp was always a family affair, the nucleus of four Troutman brothers and a huge cast of revolving sidemen and -women. As Troutman's vocals were always filtered through several layers of electronic effects and chorused like a Martian Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I suppose they'd be simple enough to duplicate. But I'll miss his bluesy guitar and harmonica work, and most of all, I'll miss his crazed-ringleader persona. In the end, though, the pleasures of hearing Zapp tunes like "More Bounce to the Ounce," "Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing)," "Do It Roger" and "Computer Love" live will draw me back. And I imagine that's just how Roger would have wanted it, too.
Another "Our Front Man Is Dead, But We Won't Quit" band plays in town this week, but I can offer an unequivocal endorsement in this case. The Wailers perform at the Anaheim House of Blues on Monday night without Bob Marley, but I've seen them live several times and they remain the best live-reggae act in the world. Keyboardist Earl Lindo, guitarist Al Anderson and bassist Aston Barrett remain with the group, and along with Marley, these guys were the very architects of the reggae genre back in the '70s. Barrett's work is particularly marvelous; he carves grooves deeper than the evil in Trent Lott's soul without so much as breaking a sweat as he stands motionless onstage, letting his fingers do all the talking, weaving the Big Hypnotic Boom-Boom magic. Gary "Nesta" Pine is the current lead vocalist, and although I'm unfamiliar with him (the group was fronted by Junior Marvin when I last saw them), I guarantee you that the Wailers would not use a front man who sucks. Expect the group to perform all the anticipated hits, and also expect a packed roomful of ganja-uninhibited yuppies to embarrass themselves by skanking their fat, white asses all over the dancefloor with gleeful abandon. It's hard to find a night of great music and comedy this fine; the Wailers and their silly fans deliver the goods!Zapp play the Galaxy Concert Theater, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Sun., 7 p.m. $10; The Wailers perform at the Anaheim House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Mon., 8 p.m. $20.