Books

Ted Templeman Biography Casts a Wide, Deep Net

Producer Ted Templeman and biographer Greg Renoff successfully capture a wide-ranging career in Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer's Life in Music.

Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer's Life in Music
Ted Templeman Greg Renoff

ECW Press

April 2020

Other

Ted Templeman has had a long and distinguished career in the music business, as a performer, producer and label executive. Greg Renoff, the co-author of Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer's Life in Music, became aware of Templeman's work the same way that many other music fans did: by seeing Templeman's name on the credits of albums by artists as varied as Captain Beefheart, Carly Simon, the Doobie Brothers, and Van Halen.

A multifaceted career poses a conundrum for a biographer. Readers interested in performers like Nicolette Larson may not be interested in reading about performers like Aerosmith. Gearheads who want to know the technical details of recording a song may not be interested in whether a band's members get along with each other. So the biographer has to choose. Do they skim through the events in the subject's life, and include a superficial bit of everything? Or do they go for deeply detailed descriptions, and let the reader focus on whatever interests them the most?

Templeman and Renoff chose the "deep dive" approach. Admittedly, because of the amount of detail, the book's narrative takes a while to get rolling, but ultimately this strategy works, because it illustrates how Templeman's work and career choices were continually informed by his eclectic experiences. Starting as a jazz-obsessed young trumpeter, he became a drummer and percussionist – and eventually reluctant vocalist and frontman – in the band that evolved into Harper's Bizarre, who had a US Top 20 hit in 1967 with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)".

Harper's Bizarre were unable to repeat that success, partly because their elaborately layered vocals were difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce live. But Templeman was intrigued by the process of creating that sound in the studio, and as the band's career wound down, he spent more time watching how producers and engineers worked.

His first production credit was Harper's Bizarre's last single, and that launched him into the job he describes as "part-time psychologist, coach, cheerleader, and musical director". He also became an executive with Warner Brothers Records, which meant he not only produced new acts, but discovered them, signed them to recording deals, and helped build their careers. And in the era Templeman lucked into, working with artists was a long-term commitment. Record companies were willing to nurture a new artist as they developed their craft, rather than immediately dumping them if their first effort didn't produce the desired returns.

Unlike some well-known producers (see: Phil Spector), Templeman avoids having a signature style that he uses on every record. Instead, he works with each act to create a unique sonic framework that shows them at their best. He produces everything from the hushed intimacy of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" to the rolling rural harmonies of the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" to the arena-rocking swagger of Van Halen's "Panama".

Templeman also learned the value of imperfection. He admits that there are audible mistakes on some of his records, but asserts that maintaining the energy and spontaneity of some performances is more important than slogging through tedious rounds of re-recording or re-mixing.

It would have been very easy for a book such as this to descend into endless variations on "me me me and aren't I great". Anyone with as many accomplishments as Templeman would have more than enough reason to boast. But the theme that emerges throughout the book is Templeman's genuine affection and respect for the acts he's worked with – even the ones that he fought with and the ones that he feels he missed the mark with.

Some readers may feel there's a little too much discussion of Van Halen – certainly a topic Renoff is familiar with, having previously authored a history of that band. But that extensive section is still interesting as a case study of how the dynamics within a band, and the evolution of its members' musical interests, can doom even the most confident and commercially successful act.

Templeman is now largely retired from the music business, after executive shuffles at Warner Brothers resulted in his being dismissed from the company, and his subsequent struggles with substance abuse and depression. His last production was the 2010 album for the Doobie Brothers, World Gone Crazy. He and Renoff have undertaken a challenging task in chronicling his extensive career, but the result is a fascinating account of a panoramic musical journey.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.