SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — In a life full of magical musical moments, few compare for Ted Templeman to the night he first saw Van Halen in a mostly empty Hollywood club.
The elite record-maker and Warner Bros. record executive who had spent the decade producing albums for The Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Carly Simon and many others had been invited to see the young rockers one night in 1977. He hid amid the crowd so the band wouldn’t know he was there and he could leave unnoticed if he wanted to. He wouldn’t want to.
“When Van Halen came on stage, it’s like they were shot out of a cannon,” Templeman said in his new memoir, “Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music,” co-authored with Greg Renoff. “Right out of the gate I was just knocked out by Ed Van Halen … encountering him was almost like falling head-over-heels in love with a girl on a first date. I was so dazzled.”
Templeman, whose first musical love was jazz, said the only artists whose virtuosity compared to Van Halen’s guitar wizardry were pianist Art Tatum and saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker.
“I thought, ‘I’ve heard the third coming,’” Templeman told the AP in an interview. “There was Bird, Tatum, and Ed Van Halen.”
Templeman promptly signed the band and set out to record them, beginning a close relationship where he would almost become a fifth member for a triumphant years-long run that would change the course of rock as they took the heft of metal and gave it a sense of humor and hit-making sensibility.
Templeman almost blew it from the start, however, when he nearly fired lead singer David Lee Roth to replace him with Sammy Hagar. Years later, Hagar actually would replace Roth in 1985.
The producer loved Roth’s showmanship, but couldn’t get past his often atonal singing.
He chose to keep him anyway, avoiding what he says in the book would have been “the biggest mistake in rock history.”
He would soon learn that Roth had more to offer than his goofy showmanship.
“Dave has this subtle sardonic sense of humor,” Templeman told the AP. “This guy is a lyrical genius.”
Templeman never thought his life was worth a memoir, but when he read Renoff’s previous book, “Van Halen Rising,” a rousing story of the band’s early days in Pasadena, California, he reached out to the author to praise him for getting everything right.
“He suggested doing a biography,” Templeman said. “I thought, ‘what’s there to read about me?’”
Plenty, it turns out. While Templeman has never been a household name, he has spent his life surrounded by them. The book features cameos from Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Prince, along with the major players Templeman produced.
The son of a music store owner from Santa Cruz, California, Templeman saw semi-stardom in the 1960s as a member of the one-hit wonder Harper’s Bazaar. He would use his time in the band to learn the art of recording.
He was working as a $50-a-week demo tape listener at Warner when he heard a tape from The Doobie Brothers, who would become his first great discovery, leading to a long musical marriage that would spawn the hits “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music” and “What a Fool Believes,” which won Templeman a Grammy for record of the year.
Templeman’s first No. 1 song came with The Doobie Brothers’ “Blackwater,” which Templeman had thought was a lousy choice for a single.
He was even more dubious a decade later about a new Van Halen song, whose opening lick featured Eddie Van Halen on keyboards instead of guitar. Templeman’s engineer and indispensable partner Donn Landee spent many hours developing the song with Eddie anyway. It became “Jump,” the biggest hit of both the band and Templeman’s career.
“I wasn’t really into the whole synthesizer thing,” Templeman told the AP with a laugh. “But I was wrong. It was a No. 1 record.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton.