The NotMakingThisUp Book Review: Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
It may be imagined by long time readers of these virtual pages that your editor's taste for guitar heroes begins with Jimmy Page and ends with Jimi Hendrix. Nevertheless, the recent death of guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen at the still relatively young age of 65 did not go unnoticed. And while the Van Halen sound was a bit too slick, and synthetic, for our taste, when it turned out that every Van Halen obituary quoted from a recent book by producer Ted Templeman, we had to buy it:
Templeman is, after all, the genius who produced Tupelo Honey for Van Morrison, and helped the Doobie Brothers go from a biker bar outside Santa Cruz to arenas across the country, he remains proudest of discovering Eddie Van Halen at a club in L.A.
"I’d seen Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie,” writes Templeman, who had been a serious musician with a one-hit wonder pop band in the ‘60s, “but Ed was one of the best musicians I’d ever seen live.”
He even compares the guitarist—we’re talking about a guy whose hits included “Hot for Teacher”—to Charlie Parker (look him up kids).
We’re not making that up:
“In fact, as I watched I was thinking there are two musicians in my mind who are the absolute best of the best: Parker, jazz pianist Art Tatum, and now here’s the third game-changer, Ed Van Halen. So right away, I knew I wanted him on Warner Bros.”
There may be more about Van Halen in this book than most non-Van Halen fans will ever care to know, but our respect for the band’s original and over-the-top front-man David Lee Roth was immensely increased by Templeman's book. Roth’s voice wasn’t great, as Templeman says, many times (in fact it was his major concern about signing the band), but Roth more than made up for it (at least in the early years), with a serious work ethic, street smarts and a John Lennon-ish off-kilter view of the world that translated into lyrics that clicked with Eddie’s riffs.
(Okay, “Hot for Teacher” isn’t quite up there with “Since I’ve Been Loving You” or “Kashmir,” but Robert Plant did write “The Lemon Song.”)
The Van Morrison stories alone are worth the whole book—if you’re a Van aficionado—and there are plenty of interesting stories about artists like Captain Beefheart (look him up, too, kids), Ricky Lee Jones, Carly Simon, Aerosmith (trying to come back from the depths of addiction and the loss of everything they every owned), Eric Clapton (who unfortunately fell off the wagon during his sessions with Templeman), and Linda Ronstadt.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to the usual arc of any successful music industry story: the scrappy start at the bottom of the food chain (Templeman began as a “tape listener” for $50 a week, sifting through submissions the old fashioned way—listening to tapes); then the inexorable climb to the top of the heap, where alcohol dependency and cocaine abuse did what those habits do; then two stints of rehab before emerging with enough of his mind left to tell some very good stories.
Indeed, one of the nicer aspects of this book is the lack of negative energy Templeman exerts. Even when he does criticize somebody—Captain Beefheart, for example—he always provides an excuse.
Except Groucho Marx.
If there was more despicable human being in the entertainment business than Groucho Marx—well, Louis C. K. and Harvey Weinstein aside—we haven’t heard of him.
Buy this book.