Storied Producer of Doobies, Van Halen, and More Tells His Own Story

Ted Templeman listening to a playback at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, most likely while working on the Montrose debut album, summer 1973.
Ted Templeman listening to a playback at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, most likely while working on the Montrose debut album, summer 1973. Photo by Donn Landee/Courtesy of ECW

Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music
By Ted Templeman as told to Greg Renoff
450 pp.

As an introduction to the often misunderstood art of record production, young Ted Templeman could not have found a better session to observe. Through friends in the music biz, the young singer/drummer found himself in a Capitol Records studio behind the soundboard.

On the other side of the glass, Frank Sinatra was recording the song “That’s Life”…and running roughshod over the session’s nominal producer, Jimmy Bowen. Here, the artist was making his own decisions and giving the band directives asking no second opinion. But I mean, hey, it’s Frank Sinatra.

click to enlarge ECW BOOK COVER
ECW book cover
Templeman’s main gig was as member of the sunshine pop group Harper’s Bizarre (they had a hit with a 1967 cover version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy”). But as his desire to perform waned he kept focused on the thought: I could be the Man Behind the Glass. And one that would work with an artist, not let them call the shots.

And he did, forging a successful career for over two decades while he working with Van Morrison (on his No. 1 hit “Wild Night”), Little Feat, Eric Clapton, Sammy Hagar, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, and Nicolette Larson (he admits to nicking the chords for her smash “Lotta Love” from Ace’s “How Long,” while adding a sax solo and disco beat for radio).

But readers will likely be most interested in Templeman’s two most successful and longest-lasting collaborations: the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen.

There’s a lot for fans of the Doobies here. How “Black Water,” a throwaway B-side that no one thought much of, became a No. 1 nationwide hit after one radio station in Roanoke, Virginia started playing it. Or how an unconfident Michael McDonald – still unsure of his place in the band while supposedly “subbing” for original lead singer Tom Johnston - thought “Takin’ It To the Streets” would be a flop. Templeman would even dust off his own skin thumping skills, playing on “What a Fool Believes.”

And there’s even more Van Halen stories, right from the beginning when Templeman became their champion after seeing them in a near-empty Hollywood club (“It was like they were shot out of a cannon,” he recalls). He was wildly impressed with the energy and skill of guitarist Eddie Van Halen (“I’d never been as much impressed with a musician as I was with him that night”).

In fact, the world likely would have never had Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar workout “Eruption” had Templeman not happened to overhear Eddie simply warming up with finger exercise in the studio, then demanding the guitar virtuoso actually record it.

click to enlarge An outdoor shot from the set of Van Halen’s “Pretty Woman” video, January 1982. - PHOTO BY DONN LANDEE/COURTESY OF ECW
An outdoor shot from the set of Van Halen’s “Pretty Woman” video, January 1982.
Photo by Donn Landee/Courtesy of ECW
He was less enthused with singer David Lee Roth’s limited vocal abilities, even going so far as to suggest to some before recording VH’s debut album that the flamboyant front man be replaced with the singer from another band he’s worked with, Montrose. A man by the name of…Sammy Hagar (though it would be years before Templeman saw that switch actually come about).

A fascinating bit of VH history is how Templeman relays the solo EP he made with Roth while Eddie Van Halen hemmed and hawed on their next record – the smash Crazy from the Heat (with “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”)– inadvertently exacerbated tensions within the band, which directly led to Roth’s exit.

Though his professed naivete about being shocked at that outcome seems disingenuous. As does his decision not to produce  the band’s next record — now fronted by Sammy Hagar – because “it wasn’t really Van Halen” without Roth. Templeman writes that he’d only take the job of the band renamed themselves Van Hagar or something similar. The band declined. And in the words of Larry David, they did pretty, pretty good with Hagar. Better than some of Templeman’s relationships with various Morrisons and Doobies and Van Halens ended up.

Throughout, Templeman also gives a lot of credit to his engineer for many of his records, Donn Landee (though that relationship would fray as well). Nevertheless, Templeman (via Renoff) comes off as an engaging and friendly narrator and tour guide behind the making of some of classic rock’s biggest records.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero