Producer Ted Templeman Talks Van Morrison, The Doobie Brothers, Ronnie Montrose….via Billboard

Billboard recently spoke to Ted Templeman.  The famed producer talked about his intimidating but ultimately triumphant first co-production with Van Morrison.  An excerpt from the interview can be found below.

How did you come to work with Van Morrison?

I was working as a listener at Warner Bros. Records. A&R ace Lenny Waronker, along with WB general manager Joe Smith, had helped me sign The Doobie Brothers, and we were co-producing their first record. One day Joe told me I should take a trip to San Francisco with him to learn the ropes. We flew to up and drove to Marin County to meet with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Len cautioned me: “Ted, don’t eat or drink anything he offers, it might be laced with acid.”

After that, we drove to Fairfax, California to see Van Morrison. He and Joe talked about his next album. Van was quiet, polite and self-effacing, and I took an immediate liking to the guy. His Irish brogue was hard to understand sometimes, but I could tell he was a super-smart cat. We talked for a while, then Joe and I headed back to Burbank. A week later, Van called and asked me to come up and listen to some tunes. He played new song ideas, and we listened to records, and found we had a common interest in Jazz. We both liked The Modern Jazz Quartet, Mose Allison… We listened to the Les McCann and Eddie Harris track “Compared To What” three or four times in a row… Then he played me some new song ideas that were terrific. But I was completely surprised when he said “Wanna work on a record with me?” I couldn’t believe it… he was giving me the chance of lifetime! His talent is undeniably beyond compare. His ballad lyrics have the warm sensitivity of Shelley or Keats on “Tupelo Honey,” yet he can deliver vocals with the power of Hemingway on a song like “Wild Night.”

You’d already done the first Doobie Brothers album? Or what had Van heard of your production work?

He’d heard nothing… and wouldn’t have known of the Doobie Brothers, because “Listen To The Music” from their second LP wasn’t even written yet. He had no idea. He doesn’t think like that. He just said, “You wanna work with me on this?” I said, ‘yeah’ and we decided to co-produce. We went right in to the studio. He’d decided to give this young rookie a shot.

What studio was this?

Wally Heider’s in San Francisco. We had a wonderful, understanding engineer, Stephen Barncard. I’d go in and get the musicians warmed up and microphones ready, then he would get sounds while I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Fairfax, pick up Van, who had no driver’s license. It was great, because he’d selected the musicians, and they’d be ready to go when he walked in. Not like I called in studio cats; he knew exactly how to put a band together. They knew what to expect. If he’d rehearsed them, he’d sometimes walk in, pick up his guitar… tell them which song he wanted to do, then go: “one, two, three, four” and boom… they’d start.

I was nervous, but he was understanding. He’s stop and say, “So Ted, are we getting a good sign in there?” In his Irish brogue, he was saying “sound.” He sang every track straight through, live with the band. That’s how he captured the spontaneity. That’s an important lesson I learned from him. I used that approach in all my future projects. Never burn out the band doing take after take…. just get the little parts ironed out before hitting the record button.

There were certain terms that confused some of us. Americans think of songs in terms of verse, chorus, bridge, etc., but Van called a bridge “the middle eight,” which makes perfect sense. I was nervous as hell. I was afraid of over-modulating [distortion] and tried not to look unhappy or puzzled…because musicians look at the expression on the producer’s face. So here I am, trying to make sure we didn’t mess something up, while at the same time being in awe of Van’s talent. His pitch is perfect, and his vocal ability and musical instincts are second to none.

Ronnie Montrose, who you later produced with future Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, is on this record.

Ronnie Montrose was a godsend to me; we got to be really good friends. He had a sense of humor that would make Van laugh, and that’s an important thing. He was the guy who kept the fucking session alive, and I’m not joking, because I was too serious. I was scared. I was nervous, and he kept things light and happy.

Read the entire interview @ this location.