Roger Troutman was a talented guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and harmonica player, yet he is undeniably best known for perfecting the use of the talkbox in R&B music. Between his band Zapp and his “solo career”–a term I employ loosely, as most of the personnel on his solo records were in fact members of Zapp–Roger had a string of hits between 1980 and 1983 that helped to put synth-heavy Ohio P-Funk on the map, and made the talkbox a mainstay in jheri curl music.
By 1983, however, Zapp’s popularity was waning, and Roger began to focus more and more extensively on his solo career. 1987’s “I Want to Be Your Man,” written by Roger’s brother and Zapp percussionist Larry Troutman, reached number three on the Billboard Charts, becoming the most successful hit for either Roger or Zapp.
The video, which stars Roger’s cropped jheri curl, features Troutman hamming it up for the camera and showing off his ability to play multiple instruments in the best way possible: with a backing band of tiny Roger Troutmen, all on stage at the same time.
By this time, the talkbox had become less of an element of Roger’s work, both solo and with Zapp, and more of a defining feature. While the use of the talkbox as a lead singer was interesting on such Zapp tracks as “Dance Floor” and “Heartbreaker,” it soon sunk into novelty territory. “I Want to Be Your Man” manages to avoid this fate, at least at first, by being a good R&B song in its own right, with Roger singing a lot of the song in his own tenor. By the end of the song, however, the talkbox becomes an irritatingly tinny soprano that sounds like a very seductive mosquito. Still, it deserves a place in jheri curl history as one of the genre’s best slow jams.
Two days left of Jheri Curl June…Spotify playlist after the jump!