If you’re a serious classic rock buff, you are aware that there are certain names that guided the sounds you love that you might know little or nothing about. Case in point: Ted Templeman. He didn’t lead the kind of wild life that pops up in the anecdotes of the usual rock star bios and he wasn’t known for the kind of instantly identifiable sound that one associates with producers like Phil Spector or Roy Thomas Baker. That said, his name tops the credits for an array of classic albums in a variety of pop subgenres, including extensive work on the catalogs of the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen. He also spent decades as a top executive at Warner Brothers, the label that prompted most of his production work. A career like that is inevitably full of stories.
Those stories have finally been told in Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life In Music, which Templeman penned himself with the assistance of Greg Renoff, the writer behind the acclaimed Van Halen Rising. It tells the story of Templeman’s career in an uncluttered, direct prose style that gets detailed when the topic demands it. Unlike a lot of rock-themed bios, this one doesn’t get bogged down in tales of naughty extracurricular behavior or tawdry personal life melodrama. Instead, it’s all about the music and its life-sustaining properties.
The early stretches of Ted Templeman are devoted to the co-author’s childhood and teen years. You get some conventional family background info here but the main thrust of this section is how he developed a love of music in multiple genres as a kid, aided in no small part by a family musical instrument and record store, and eventually moved into a brief but successful career as a recording artist in the baroque pop group Harper’s Bizarre. That group is best known for its ornate rendering of “Feelin’ Groovy” and Templeman lays out the tale of the short career in a fond but honest manner that clues us into how he became drawn to record production under mentor Lenny Waronker after realizing he had neither the chops nor the desire to be a pro musician.
In the aftermath of his pop star moment, Templeman finds himself having to climb the ladder all over to be a producer but manages to get there thanks in no small part to Waronker’s friendship and patronage. Helming the Doobie Brothers’ debut album and working with Van Morrison teach what he does and doesn’t need to do and he develops an aesthetic where he learns to let artists be who they are while subtly focusing and guiding their efforts toward an outcome that will be appealing to the band or performer’s target audience, hopefully with a track or two that has crossover appeal. He also forges a critical partnership with Donn Landee, a gifted engineer who will become the creative partner on most of his key work.
And it’s at this point where the real fun begins in Ted Templeman. The producer takes you on guided tours through his work with the Doobies and Van Halen, telling the tales behind the production of each album as he covers both musical challenges and the personality management side of producing. If you’re a fan of either band, these sections offer fascinating insights: sample highlights include the laborious process behind crafting “What A Fool Believes” and the processes involved in shaping Van Halen’s mass of club-era demos into the tunes that fans would come to love on their studio albums. On a side note, you also get Templeman’s take on the forces that drove and ultimately separated Van Halen’s original lineup as well as his involvement with Sammy Hagar.
Templeman was seriously busy during the ’70s and the first half of the ’80s so you also get stories about his shorter-term work with a variety of other artists. For example, you learn about the thorny nature of managing difficult talents like Captain Beefheart and Lowell George. There are also fond tales of his one-off production venture for Carly Simon and his work with Nicolette Larson, including a fascinating tale of how a last-minute arranging idea led to “Lotta Love” becoming Larson’s career-defining hit.
Fans of hard rock will be interested to hear about his work with Aerosmith on Done With Mirrors, including the reason they never did a second album despite interest from both sides of the partnership, and how he ended up producing Bulletboys. In between album stories, there are also interesting stories about his personal and professional encounters with everyone from Jerry Brown to Prince. The latter stages of the book cover why he ultimately got out of the business, including some unique insights into how the record business’s corporate-driven reshaping in the ’90s destroyed both the personal relationships and creative vibe that made the classic rock era possible.
Throughout the book, Templeman tells his tale in a manner that is honest without resorting to score-settling and shows his love for music throughout each chapter. He’s quick to share credit with colleagues like Waronker and particularly Landee as well as expressing fondness for the musicians he’s worked with: in a nice touch, he not only speaks fondly of the main artists but also goes into detail about the array of session musicians who contributed to these albums, displaying a true music fan’s love for talent. He tells enough of his personal story to engage the reader but is careful to keep it focused on how it shaped his career rather than resorting to reader manipulation via drama.
In short, Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life In Music is worth the read to anyone nostalgic for the era when the record business was still the stuff of dreams. Templeman gives you a front row seat for its last great era and lays out the story of his career that will give you a new appreciation for the work he put in on his favorite credits – and will likely send you back to your music collection for another spin of his productions, especially those Doobies and Van Halen albums.