Producer Ted Templeman Remembers Eddie Van Halen: ‘He Wasn’t Just a Shredder’

The first time producer Ted Templeman saw Van Halen play at Starwood in West Hollywood one night in 1977, he stormed out the doors of the club to find the nearest payphone. He called Donn Landee, a sound engineer with whom he worked closely, and left several messages. "You have to see this guy" was all he could say, referring to the band's flashy guitarist, Eddie Van Halen. At the time, Templeman was working at Warner Bros. and he had only one thought on his mind: "I had to get this deal." He rounded up the head of the label, Mo Ostin, brought him to the club the next evening and immediately signed Van Halen.
"They were rejected by everyone else," recalls Templeman. "Gene Simmons had them and he took them back to New York, but they didn't quite click and it didn't work. When I saw them, they had nothing. They had no deal and they had no money. In fact, Ed's car door was closed locked with guitar wire for the first few sessions so that it wouldn't be blown. "
Templeman pushed the band into the studio, they edited the group's self-titled debut, which sold diamonds, and he directed the group's next five albums. He was the producer behind the desk when they recorded Runnin ’With the Devil, Dance the Night Away, Unchained, Panama, Jump, and so many other classic pieces. After David Lee Roth left the band and Templeman quit working with Van Halen, he stayed close to Eddie. The two produced two albums for the band Private Life, and Templeman returned to the Van Halen group to produce For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge after Sammy Hagar joined. Templeman was in contact with Eddie until the guitarist died earlier this week.
"He told me the day he had just got his first steroid shot," says Templeman of Van Halen's cancer diagnosis. “He was fine and within two weeks he was in the hospital. From then on we would talk - but then pretty soon he couldn't talk anymore. He sent me texts every day. 'Oh God. The chemo is terrible. “Then it got to the point where he only sent little hearts at the end of a text. "I love you, Ted" and that stuff. He once wrote: "Ted, you were the first to ever believe in me." He was all medical too, but he was always great. "
Templeman sounds emotional as he ponders the suffering his friend went through, but then remembers the many good times they had together and how Van Halen stayed the same to the end. "I remember when he got his first new car," says Templeman. "He came down and showed me:" You have to see my new Porsche man. "And almost a year ago he came over to show me his new car, which was literally $ 300,000 worth. He was still the same guy and he was such a cute guy. He called first," Is it in Okay, if I come at 3 instead of 4? ”I know it's pretty early.” “Yeah, sure. "He was just a caring, really good friend."
As Templeman ponders the many years he has spent with Van Halen and how they recorded some of rock's most indelible hits, he struggles to separate work memories from those of a lifelong companion. “It's more like your boyfriend is gone than someone you worked with,” he says.
What was Ed's personality like when you first met him?
He was really, really shy. Once he got his own studio up and running, he got really creative. It was great to see all of this.
What was the first time you took him to the studio like?
Here's the big trick with recording Ed: just put a mic in front of his amp because he already had great sound. You didn't have to do anything. Maybe a little EQ.
When we did this first demo, we recorded 30 songs in one day because I wanted to hear everything. After doing that, I decided, "We have to get a [real] deal," so we went straight to the studio. After that, the red light made him a little nervous when it came on. He was a little restless. But he never made a mistake. He played perfectly. He almost always played his solos live in almost every song. He would play the chords and he would knock down the solo right away and he would go straight through. We never played over the solos. It was pretty amazing.
What music did he like?
He said his favorite band that got him into rock music was the Dave Clark Five. He said he and Al played "Glad All Over" the whole time. And he liked Eric. When I was making a Clapton album, he called the studio and said, "Is Eric really there?" I would go, "Yeah." "Can I say hello to him?" "Yes." He would make a phone call. I think he came to meet him, but he may have been too shy. He was shy.
Why was it difficult for him to open up to people?
He was very confident and went back to his school days. He only spoke Dutch and had problems with English. Even when we were recording I would say, "Hello." And he would go, "Yeah." He didn't quite know "Hi" yet. But he could express himself as soon as he started talking. So people gave him a hard time in school.
Which song impressed you the most when you did the demo?
I knew something was there when we did Ain't Talkin 'Bout Love. I didn't care if someone bought it. I just knew it was one of the greatest things. I loved [David Lee Roth's] lyrics and approach and singing. How many bands come out of the box with "If you want it you have to bleed for it, baby"? That's pretty nasty shit. But Ed played along exactly.
After we did the demo, I saw them do a show in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and it was packed. They'd go "Ain't Talkin 'Bout Love" and every time they left, "Hey! Hello! Hello!" The children all put their fists in the air. It was like, "Oh, shit." The record hadn't even come out yet. It was like the Cavern Club. Something was going on.
At what point did you have that "eruption" moment when you heard him and Alex say, "We need to record this"?
I went out to the bathroom or have coffee outside of Sunset Sound and heard him play. It sounded like something that could only be played on an organ, like a Bach fugue. I couldn't believe it was coming from a guitar. I said "what is that?" He said, "Oh, it's nothing. Just something to warm myself up with before a show." I yelled at Donn, "Roll tape!" And he said [flat out], "I'm rolling." He overheard me Ed talk.
It sounds like you had it easy.
We all had a really good working relationship for four or five albums because we all knew what to do. Dave was super inventive. Those lyrics he'd made up in the beginning were like nothing out there and Ed would pick up the lyrics and go with them somewhere. But basically there wouldn't be a song if Ed hadn't written the changes. It was a real songwriting team. You have Jagger and Richards or Rodgers and Hammerstein, whatever, but Ed would write the chords and Dave would write the lyrics. But the other would happen if Ed brought this thing to life with his licks and solos. He could rip your damn head off with the solos.
Once Dave said, "Why don't we do that old Betty Everett song, 'You're not good'?" I said, "Well, Linda [Ronstadt] cut that five years ago." I thought about it all night and said to Ed and Dave, “You know that part, 'I broke your heart gently and truly / I broke your heart over someone like you / I learned my lesson, you are not good . 'is evil. Just do it the way you want. Kill the fucker. "I said," Do it like pungent noises and scream, Dave, like psycho. Think psycho. "And I swear it turned out that way. And Ed did that creepy little solo with spiders. But my point is, he got it Got it, bang, just like that, he didn't miss a beat.
You cut six records with them one year at a time. How have you changed as a band during this time?
They were so busy that they were exhausted from always being out and about. We got to a point where Ed got mad at me. Dave really wanted to do a video because MTV was really big. They wanted to do "Oh Pretty Woman" and I told them I hate that damn song. I didn't like the original. But I cut it with them because they wanted to do it. They released it, and the record was a hit, so the company put pressure on them to put out an album and make sales. So we went in and they didn't write a lot of other songs.
Ed had that one riff and I said why don't we make it to Dancing in the Street? I thought, “That would be wild. We're going to do this Motown thing, and it's going to be, and it's summer. “And that created a problem between me and Ed. Everyone liked it at the time, but a year later someone said,“ You shouldn't have done a cover piece. ”Well, they did the first one with“ Oh, pretty woman ” . And then Ed didn't want me to make it Dancing in the Street. But it was our only choice. We had to get a record out there. That caused a little problem. I didn't know. I didn't think that it's bad, but we got around it.
In terms of the sound, however, I imagine that making these records was fun.
I only listened to recordings of recordings. And they laugh on one of the "happy trails". Ed says, "Ted, don't make us laugh." So I would fall on the floor so they couldn't see me. And then Ed would say, "Where's Ted? Don't make us laugh, Ted." It's funny. You can hear all of this stuff. And then they start singing and then they laugh. Even then we had a great time.
Are there a lot of outtakes? Is there much left on the cutting room floor?
No, they are really, really rare. I have the very first demo we did and it took us two days. The last one is 40 songs I think. Dave said, "That's all we have unless you want to hear Happy Trails." And then they did "Happy Trails" a cappella. I still have the demo. That's it I knew it in the middle of the demo on the first day. I had no doubts. I just had to make sure I had a company to back it up.
Ed sang a lot of backup vocals. Was he confident in his voice?
Yes, he had a strong voice. People don't know that he can really sing. The most popular song we ever did was "Dance the Night Away". We did a lot of these backgrounds that me and Ed and Mike were. We'd get away with just Ed and Mike once, and the second time with me Ed and Mike would double up on his second shift. I just had to strengthen Ed's role and sing with him.
I only doubled it up for sonic reasons and Mike has a strong voice too. In fact, Ed called him "Cannonmouth" because he could sing and you could hear him across the street. Mike is also a dude's sweetheart and a great bass player. He was perfect all along. He was an enormous asset to the band. And Al, the same. He was like a metronome. But yes, these people have never made mistakes. When you have a band that plays like that, it's damn easy.
When did you and Ed realize that you were working with a genius?
Are you kidding? I knew this before I even went to the studio with him because I'd been watching him. The good thing is that they were only a couple of blocks away from me. We went down to Dave's basement to work the songs out and I said, "Let's try something different here," and Ed said, "How about this?" Boom boom boom.
But I think it really hit me when I walked by and he played "Eruption" and he didn't really think it was worth looking into. I'm serious. He said, “That? It's a small thing. "
I knew from the first rehearsal that he was a guitar genius. When I saw him play at Starwood, I'd never seen anything like it. I've also worked with a lot of guitarists and I've never seen anything like it. There's Art Tatum, there's Charlie Parker, and there's this kid.
His genius went beyond playing the instrument.
He had his own way of building his own rig. He had taped his foot pedals together with plaster and tape and he had all these little tricks that he would turn on and off. He would build all of his own things. He had his own way of making his amp sound stronger than others by delivering more AC power to it than you should.
But I knew it from his game. The knock was pretty innovative. Nobody did that damn hammer-on-tapping thing. When I saw this live I thought, "Holy shit." I've never heard anything like it. And he would do that in the middle of a solo. When we did the demo he did a solo and just threw those things in. I knew this guy was up there. I mean, he really is a genius. And I had a good reference because I've worked with guitarists in so many bands: Montrose, the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison. Ronnie Montrose was damn good. When I saw Ed I thought, "He's way above all this shit. It's something from another world."
It is known that there was a lot of fighting in Van Halen. Did you have to referee a lot?
No, they never fought. It's just that they didn't click. I think that had to do with the early days because Dave was always bossing them around. He is like P.T. Barnum. "We have to make a show of it. Ed, you have to dress like this. Al, do that." And Ed always told me that they would be on their way to do these stages, even if Al didn't think Ed was doing enough Moved, he threw his drumstick and hit him in the back to remind him to keep moving. Don't just stand there and play.
But I've met Ed before. Even on a personal level when the guys didn't want him to get married. He said, "Ted, I don't know what to do?" I said, "Fuck the guys. They can't tell you about your life. Do you want to go out now? I'm going out with you "That night I saw Valerie [Bertinelli, Ed's first wife] and she said," Oh, Ted. Thank you very much. "It was like the band was deciding whether or not to get married. And I said," It's your life. Fuck the tape. “And he never forgot that. Every birthday I would call him or he would call me, so we have to be good friends.
Have you ever disagreed with Ed?
The only argument we ever had was about "jumping" because I didn't - I don't like it.
Still don't like "Jump"?
It's not one of my favorite things. It's stupid because I produced it, but the keyboards just found me wrong. He called me in the middle of the night and said, "Ted, you have to hear that. I'll come and get you." And he drove his Porsche to Century City and picked me up at three in the morning and drove me up there: "Hear this." And they had "jump" down. Donn had worked on it. And it worked; it sounded great. And I said, "Yeah, OK." The next morning I said, "Dave, write some lyrics." We sat in the back of his Mercury. He wrote this song and I said, "This is awful." I don't know if you've ever heard Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, but they did this song about a guy who was stuck in a fire in a building and they say, "Jump, you bastard, jump in that blanket, what we do hold. "I said," That bothers me. Don't say "jump". It sounds like you're encouraging someone to commit suicide. "He said," No, no. I nailed this thing. It has a double meaning. "And he did. It meant 'take a chance," but it also meant he was going to get this girl.
But I wasn't crazy about the keyboard trend. I was wrong because it was number one, but I don't even listen to it. To me they were a heavy metal fucking band that could make pop music; That's what I liked about them. But that put it in a different arena. It reminded me of those bands that play in arenas and then the damn thing was played in every arena before a game. But look, I was wrong.
What are your favorite Van Halen songs?
"Panama" and "Ain't Talkin 'Bout Love".
Those are great guitar songs too.
He hardly wrote a bad one.
Besides "Eruption" Eddie recorded a lot of cool instrumental stuff. There's "Spanish Fly", "Sunday Afternoon in the Park", "Cathedral", "Little Guitars". Did he just come in with these things and say, "Look at this?"
He came up with “Spanish Fly” in my house. I had a Ramirez guitar that I bought in Spain. I play classical guitar. And he had it and was noodling on it in my living room. He tapped an acoustic guitar and I said, "OK." So he trained “Spanish Fly” in my house.
"Little Guitars" I think had something to do with Ed having a little guitar. It would blend in with his acoustic stuff. He could play the flamenco guitar; he wouldn't do it in the classic sense. He would do his knocking thing and do it amazing.
You were in contact with Ed until his death. That must have been difficult.
Donn Landee and I called him when he was at the Cedars hospital trying to make him laugh as best we could. Then it got to where they brought him home and things I don't want to talk about. The misery he went through is really hard to describe or reconsider so I blocked that. So my last best memory is when he came by and brought his car over to show me, just like when he got his first car that worked [laughs]. He had to go to Century City to show me. In fact, I live in this condominium and the [gatekeeper] called me and said, “There's a guy down here who says he's Eddie Van Halen. Should I tell him to go?” I said, “No, no , no, he is. I swear to God. " [Laughs]
It's nice to hear that someone people consider a guitar god to be so down to earth and humble.
Oh yeah. If someone asked him a question backstage, he would talk to them. I'm telling you, he was the last one to think he was some kind of guitar god. He hated that.
I wrote him a letter while his guitar was hanging in the Metropolitan and said, "Ed, I think you're one of the greatest guitarists of all time and one of the three greatest musicians aside from Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. But to do that, what you just did, you have your rig in the Met ... "I said," If I build my own car and win the Indy 500, you can congratulate me. "He loved letters like that.
But he was so smart. He could barely speak English when I met him, but he could read and write. I think he was more than just a guitar genius.
Is there a way to measure one's contribution to the music?
I dont know. It's different from most people because he was a triple threat. Those other guitarists like Allan Holdsworth or Clapton or anyone, they could come up with a good solo, but Ed wrote the songs. And then he would come up with those great riffs and then play the best solos ever played.
It wasn't just a paper shredder. He put a lot of things in there that no one else could do. He would turn things upside down and do crazy things, and he knew that no one else could do some of those things, but that was more like, "Here's my newest thing." He didn't show up. All of his solos are melodic. It comes from a very musical thing because he could play the piano before. And he could really play the piano. He would play a Steinway in the studio and it would sound like a concert pianist.
He knew about music. That's why his solos and the songs he and Dave wrote hold up. He wrote the chord changes as a songwriter. I think its effect is that people subconsciously hear melodic solos and people are drawn to it. You can hear every solo from Deep Purple and they don't have the same melodies in their solos. Jimmy Page was melodic, but somehow it's not the same. I think Ed's influence is that he brought pop stuff into his music. Everyone likes that. No matter how much you like other types of music, if you listen to really good pop music, you just get it.
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