Producer Ted Templeman Reflects on Eddie Van Halen: 'One of the Sweetest Guys I Ever Knew'

Eddie Van Halen
Fin Costello/Redferns

Eddie Van Halen from Van Halen poses backstage at Lewisham Odeon in London on May 27, 1978.

Producer Ted Templeman — famed for his work with artists like The Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon and Sammy Hagar — discovered rock giants Van Halen when he was tipped off to catch the act playing at the Starwood in West Hollywood in 1977. Amazed by Eddie Van Halen’s otherworldly guitar prowess, he immediately brought then-Warner Bros. chairman/CEO Mo Ostin to see the band so he could sign it ASAP.

Templeman helmed Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut that sent the quartet of Van Halen; his drummer brother, Alex Van Halen; bassist Michael Anthony; and singer David Lee Roth into orbit. It went platinum in less than a year and was certified diamond by the RIAA in 1996. He went on to steer their next five albums, from 1979’s Van Halen II to 1984’s 1984, as well as co-produce 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

During the earliest years of their friendship, Templeman and Eddie regularly spent New Year’s Eve together. “Of all the artists I worked with, he was the only one that I hung out with,” says Templeman, 77. “There’s nobody else, and I’ve produced a lot of people.” He remained in contact with Eddie as he battled cancer, which Eddie first publicly disclosed in 2001. Eddie sent daily texts to Templeman for as long as he physically could before he died on Oct. 6 at the age of 65.

“It got to the point where he couldn’t talk, so he would send texts to me every morning,” recalls Templeman. “Put like a little ‘Love you, Ted’ and put a strong arm next to that, meaning, ‘I’m still [fighting].’ Bunch of hearts.” To keep his spirits up, producer-engineer Donn Landee (who also did extensive work with Van Halen) and Templeman “would call him up, and we would make him laugh and stuff over the phone.” He adds that Eddie “kept hope … He was a good soldier.”

Here, Templeman recounts capturing some of Eddie’s most famous guitar moments — like his signature solo on Van Halen's “Eruption” — and his bond with the once-in-a-lifetime talent.

For me, [Eddie was] kind of like a brother. You wouldn’t believe what a sweet person that he was. One of the sweetest guys I ever knew. Just a wonderful guy.

I think [our friendship] started really early on because we all lived in Pasadena [Calif.] and we rehearsed in Dave’s basement in Pasadena. Ed would come over to my house every New Year’s Eve, and his brother Al. They would sit around, my wife would fix dinner, and we’d have New Year’s Eve there. Then when I moved up to Santa Barbara, he’d come up there to visit. It had nothing to do with music, you know what I mean? It was just hanging out. I’d never really gotten that kind of close with any artist.

In the studio [while recording Van Halen], he was pretty damn serious. In fact, he was a little nervous at first because it was a big deal for them to get signed. The whole way that I found them: I drove down there in the rain. Someone gave me a tip, and then I went and got Mo Ostin to go get them. The fact that someone believed in [Eddie]; they’d been turned down by everybody, and he really was happy with the first album.

Dave was talented. I mean, his lyrics and his melodies were as much of a reason that band happened. I don’t think it would have happened as an instrumental band. So Ed would write a melody, Dave would come out with the lyric and more melody, and Ed would write the chord changes and then come up with the melody and lyrics, and they were clever lyrics. Nothing like it, really. “Ain’t Talking ’Bout Love” is still one of my favorites. Who else is going to go, “You got to bleed for it, baby”? But Ed knew how to punctuate that stuff with his guitar.

[I first heard “Eruption”] at Sunset Sound [Recorders]. I had to go to the bathroom and came back in, and he was playing that. I thought, “Wait a minute. Something’s going on here.” I listened for a minute because what he was playing sounded like a Bach fugue on an organ because only he could play that. “What’s that? What is that?” He says, “Oh, nothing. It’s just something I warm up with before we do a show.” I said, “Donn! Roll some tape!” He went, “I was already rolling.” He had been listening in to the conversation. No one had ever heard anything quite [like it].

If you listen to “Eruption,” it’s pretty goddamn amazing. Some people just aren’t aware of how talented they are. That was an amazing moment. Really, really was.

In “And the Cradle Will Rock,” Dave wrote great lyrics for it. But Eddie took a Wurlitzer electric piano like Ray Charles played in “What’d I Say” and plugged it into a Marshall amp and played it [for the intro]. He was so creative. He just put in all that kind of stuff.

He was over at my house [one] New Year’s Eve, and Ed would sit there for hours and he was using my Ramirez guitar that I had bought in Spain when I was a kid. And he was playing — how could he do this? — tapping and stuff on this acoustic guitar in my home; oh my God! And that turned into a song called “Spanish Fly.” So it was somewhat of an accident. If I hadn’t been walking through the living room when he was playing my Ramirez guitar, he wouldn’t have come up with that. You can’t do that kind of tapping stuff on those kind of guitars [with] nylon strings, but he did it.

I had this old Fender Mustang guitar I took to Guitar Center. They wanted like 600 bucks to fix it. It was sitting on one of my chairs. Eddie went over, and he looks at it and he goes, “You got a screwdriver?” I said, “Yeah,” [and] he fixed this [minor problem] while he was talking to me.

One time in the studio, I wanted to put a mandolin on something. He came in and he was playing along, and all of a sudden, he says, “I don’t want to play this thing,” and he smashed the mandolin all over the place. And that’s just not him; [he was] such an easy-going guy. And Donn, he had set me up with a [laughs] cheap mandolin so [Eddie] could shatter it.

All my other artists thought he was amazing. All the Doobie Brother guys. When I was producing Eric Clapton, he was like, “Are you really in there with Eric?” I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “Can I talk to him on the phone?” He was really thrilled to talk to Eric Clapton.

[But] he really didn’t like being called a guitar hero and that kind of thing. He didn’t think that way: “I’m just a player. I’m just a band guy.” He didn’t like that guitar god stuff … It was all about the music — and his son, Wolfie.