Talk Box - Funky, Auto Tune - Not Funky
by Scarlet Waters
Roger Troutman

Isn’t it almost impossible not to start bouncing some part of your body, or contort your face into a twisted expression of experiencing deep Funk, when you hear Zapp Band’s More Bounce to the Ounce?  My LORT this is one of the funkiest tunes ever made on the earth. It transcends generations too — the first time I played it for my 17 year old she got that twisted face!  So the bass is bumping, that kick is rolling through your heart, and then this crazy funky vocal sound kicks in and it’s like WHAT is THAT?!  THAT, my friends is the great Roger Troutman singing through what is called a talk-box.  

Unlike auto tune, which is what you hear in much of today's music, where the person merely sings into the mic, and the computer software alters the sound, musicians have to actually play the melody or chords on an instrument, while simultaneously speaking the words into the tube of the talk box. Not easy. Auto tune primarily came about to correct the pitch for people who couldn't sing. Artist T-Pain, although he can actually sing, took Autotune to another level much like Roger did with the Talk Box.

 

If you’ve ever seen Roger Troutman and Zapp perform, you have probably seen him with this plastic tube coming out of his mouth and realized that was what was responsible for that funky electronic sound of the lyrics.  A talk-box is an effects unit that can modify the sound of an instrument, usually a guitar or electronic keyboard, by how the singer uses their voice.  It shapes the frequency of the sound coming out of the instrument, making them sound more vocalized.  It is usually a pedal that sits on the floor, attached to a speaker and a tube that extends from the speaker upward to the performers mouth and right next to the mic. 

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This is what in part put Zapp Band’s style in the category of Electro-Funk. Many artist have used this effects unit including Stevie Wonder, Peter Frampton, Steely Dan, Queen, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, The Black Keys, Guns N’ Roses, Jeff Beck, Aerosmith, Eagles, and Rufus and Chaka Khan in Tell Me Something Good which by the way, was written by Stevie Wonder.  Stevie uses it in Black Man from Songs in The Key of Life, and Love Having You Around from Music of My Mind.  You know, the album with “Mary wants to be a Superwoman, but is that really in her miiiiiind, but all the things she wants to be she needs to leave behiiiind,” — but I digress.  As you can see it’s mainly been used by Rock bands and musicians, so the use of it in Funk music really gives a creative edge to that genre.

 

Some music is great in its time, and some music will last until the end of time, and Zapp Band is one of those timeless groups.  They followed up 6 years later with Computer Love, the first song I ever slow-danced to featuring the phenomenal voice of the great Shirley Murdock. It is another one of those classic hits that are the soundtrack of generations of lives.  My daughter and her peers love this song, and it is over 30 years old!  Many Hip-Hop artists including Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube give much homage to Roger Troutman for inspiring them and of course, Zapp Band’s music has been sampled numerous times in Hip-Hop.  That’s how we do y’all.  Always timeless.  

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