If you grew up spinning vinyl records on a turntable in the 1970’s, you’ve seen the name. Like so many did, you would arrive home with the coveted new Van Halen record. Frantically biting the corner of the celo-wrapping, unable to pick the lock of this treasure chest fast enough, you were finally able to free this black vinyl jewel from its cardboard prison. As you positioned the tiny hole over the spindle of your phonograph, you would see that Warner Brothers label and the first side’s track listing. Below that inventory of songs were the words; Produced by Ted Templeman. What is a producer? This person must have had an integral role in the making of this record, if their name is on the label next to the Van Halens’, Roth’s and Anthony’s. Chances are, that is about the extent of the thought you devoted to this notion once the needle reached the groove of the opening track.
Ted Templeman A Platinum Producer’s Life In Music, available now from ECW Press, tracks a rather unlikely man’s journey from a short lived pop-star to becoming an industry executive and one of the most prolific music producers in history. This Autobiography as told to Greg Renoff, author of Van Halen Rising, describes Templeman’s life in a very straight forward chronology. Music being in his DNA, he became a rabid fan of jazz and R&B music from his earliest days hanging around his grandfather’s music shop. He would play trumpet and his major early influences were the classic jazz players. In his early adulthood, the rock n’ roll bug would bite him. Eventually he would find his band evolving into Harpers Bizarre, who would score a minor hit with a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel tune, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). It was during his time in Harpers Bizarre when his love and obsession with the record making process would develop.
Never comfortable with being a performer, Harpers Bizarre ended and he went to work as a tape listener for Warner Brothers Records. He wouldn’t do that long after discovering and recommending the signing of The Doobie Brothers. Not only would he be instrumental in their signing to the label, he would co-produce their debut album and would produce all of their subsequent records into the early 80’s. He would work with the likes of Van Morrison, Montrose, Little Feat, Aerosmith and numerous others in addition to his most widely known work with Van Halen. The book lends great insight to the role of a producer in the making of a record. The stories related about working with so many artists on numerous records, illustrate that a producer needs to have more than just an ear for music. This person must wear many hats, including that of a therapist, referee, diplomat, headmaster and sometimes an errand boy.
You may find yourself revisiting songs you have heard 1,000 times, to comprehend just what he is describing about the account of a particular portion of a song. Reading his initial impressions of David Lee Roth is especially interesting and something that most readers would presumably find to be unexpected. The individual accounts of the recording sessions provide insight to the process of making a record. One of the striking things is the self-reflection and even criticism of his own performance. His propensity to dole out credit to others is also refreshing. No punches are pulled, and the recounting depicts regrettable instances, but is not a tell-all, trash piece by any means. Most of the lamented incidents come from his perspective and Templeman always owns his part.
This memoir is sure to be an enjoyable read for musicians and music fans alike. The writing style is very simplistic and makes it a very easy read. The elemental telling makes the book accessible to those for whom technical jargon flies miles over their heads. At the same time, people with more advanced knowledge of recording processes will find plenty to hold their attention in the recounting of different sessions. There are plentiful tales of a man who has led a uniquely interesting life, even being a passenger on a hijacked airplane. Yeah, back in the late 60’s and early 70’s commercial airliner hijackings were a thing. Templeman repeatedly heaps praise on his longtime collaborator, engineer Donn Landee. Even though that relationship’s fractured, it is evident by his telling, that Templeman was above all, a friend to those with whom he worked. In the end, reading this life story will answer the question, “What is a producer?”