The Doobie Brothers and Producer Ted Templeman, Part 2

Part 2. Picking up where we left off.

Warner Bros. was concerned when Tommy Johnston was forced to leave the Doobie Brothers because of his ulcer. He had collapsed at a concert and was in critical condition.

“So I was heartbroken when he walked away. I never told anybody this, but some part of me didn’t want to continue producing the Doobie records. I stayed on, though, because I didn’t want to let down the remaining guys or the company. But if I’m being completely honest, I was gutted that Tommy had quit.”

Ted Templeman
Ted Templeman’s memoirs.
The story of the Doobie Brothers as told by two founding members.

Per Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s recommendation, the band called ex-Steely Dan vocalist Michael McDonald to fill in. Producer Ted Templeman was not thrilled with McDonald – until he heard him sing, and bowled over when he heard the songs McDonald was working on.

While Johnston was healing, the band recorded and released Takin’ it to the Street, a surprise hit. Warner Bros. was happy.

McDonald was a very different singer/songwriter/musician from Johnston. The Doobies had been a rock and roll, guitar band. Now they were veering toward a laidback, soulful, pop-jazz band. Johnston contributed one song to the album, but was more of a ghost during a long convalescence.

“I did not belong in the new version of the band. I was happy making my solo music and had made peace with my decision to leave.”

Tommy Johnston

Reports of conflict between Johnston and McDonald were wrong, the two guys respected and liked each other. Johnston just felt the band’s direction was not in sync with his own. True, the band was exploring other genres and textures, this was no longer The Captain and Me. The songs on the upcoming Living on a Fault Line cemented the musical change of direction.

In the meanwhile, Templeman had produced an album by Carly Simon, Another Passenger, with help from Michael McDonald and the other Doobie Brothers. According to Templeman, the album underperformed and yielded no significant charting singles. He put the fault at his choice of song selections. In his mind, song selection, even with artists that write their own songs, is the responsibility of the producer.

Then, in 1977, Van Halen fell into Templeton’s lap. He was tipped to the band playing at a local club and went to see them. Knocked out by guitarist Eddie Van Halen, Templeman brought the Warner Bros. Records CEO the next night, and a deal was made. Interestingly, Templeman wasn’t sold on lead singer David Lee Roth and mulled bringing in Monstrose vocalist Sammy Hagar. How ironic is that!

Templeman and Warner Bros. Records CEO with Van Halen

When Van Halen came in the sign the deal, Templeman advised them to hold onto their publishing, and not let Warner get it on the cheap. Templeman worked for Warners so he chose the best interest of his clients rather than the corporation. He had seen many artists get ripped-off and lose a lifetime income. He also advised them not to split the songwriting equally, but they held to their agreement to share it among the band, regardless of the writer.

Meanwhile, Templeman, on the advice of Linda Ronstadt, met and signed a young singer, Nicolette Larson. He produced her first three albums and her massive hit, “Lotta Love.” Larson had been a girlfriend of Neil Young, who wrote the gentle ballad. Templeman got a wild hair and decided to change the acoustic arrangement, adding a sax, strings and a big beat. The song put Larson on the map.

Meanwhile, Templeman brought the Doobie back into the studio to begin work on what would be Minute By Minute. Templeman describes the tension in the sessions and the fatigue from nonstop touring (long tours to pay the overhead). These were not happy sessions.

McDonald was territorial over his songs, Baxter derailed the session with crazy guitar leads, and Hartman didn’t like the new musical direction. There was also pressure because the previous album didn’t sell. They would record, stop and go back on tour, reconvene in the studio, rework what they had previously recorded, and go home unsure and frustrated.

“What a Fool Believes” was written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins. After many takes, they were unsure what they had. The song hit number one on the charts as did the album. The song won the song of the year and record of the year Grammys.

Unfortunately, the band imploded because of the wear and tear, and internal personalities. Baxter was asked to leave and Hartman left on his own. John McFee and Chet McCracken replaced them, and the group added Cornelius Bumpus on sax and keyboards.

Tommy Johnston was on his own. He worked with Templeman on a solo album, Everything You’ve Heard is True, a collection of funky rockers, but the album and his follow-up didn’t sell. He said it was the most fun he’d had since the early 1970s.

As a producer and label Vice President, Templeman had a lot of responsibilities, and a few of them were in conflict. He had a fiduciary responsibility to the company, but an artistic and personal relationship with his artists. “You see, one key part of producing
groups is to make sure that that the interpersonal relationships among the members continue to function reasonably well despite the stresses of trying to make a record,” he said.

One Step Closer was the new album with the updated lineup. It was certainly not as good as Minute By Minute. Everyone in the band was encouraged to contributed songs, giving everyone some publishing, but not focusing on the best available songs. Longtime bassist Tiran Porter left the band, replaced by Willie Weeks.

Simmons, the lone original member, expressed disappointment with the band’s management, who was forcing wanted the band to relocate from Northern California to L.A. Simmons made the decision to leave the band. “I think I might be done with all of this.”

McDonald felt the vibe. “I get it,” he said. “I think it might be time to move on. Everyone’s bringing their own songs, and without you, Pat, I don’t think there’s a band.”

Simmons told the other members that the Doobie Brothers were done, after a farewell tour. Templeman would record the concerts for a 1982 live release. Johnston would join up with them for an appearance.

Through the next few years, Johnston and Simmons kept in touch and occasionally played together. Then in 1987, several benefit concerts were held, every former Doobie was invited. Various lineups occasionally performed together, but in 1988, the original lineup came together to release a new album, Cycles, followed by Brotherhood on Capitol Records, a competitor to Templeman’s label.

Other albums followed with fluid lineups, with Johnston and Simmons the constants.

Sibling Rivalry (2000)
World Gone Crazy (2010)
Southbound (2014)
Liberté (2021)

Meanwhile, Templeman had a great run with Van Halen, a totally different band than the Doobies, and incredibly different dynamics.

These are the Van Halen albums he produced.

Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen II (1979)
Women and Children First (1980)
Fair Warning (1981)
Diver Down (1982)
1984 (1984)
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) (co-produced)

Interestingly, he produced solo albums for both Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth. The dynamics between Eddie Van Halen, Roth, Hagar and Templeman grew very complicated. You’d have to read his book to understand, this was during the early years and the Van Halen-Roth split.

The story of Van Halen and Templeman is an interesting one as the students began to rebel against the teacher, particularly Eddie, who battled for independence and creative control.

Templeman would hook up with Doobie Brothers again. It was the first time Johnston, Simmons and Templeman had worked together since 1975. World Gone Crazy was recorded without a record label. It was financed by the band and Templeman.

The Doobies would continue touring, with the occasionally recording, celebrating 50 years as a band. Templeman would occasionally work as producer, after being bought-out by Warner Brothers, after a more than three decade association and millions of albums sold. His deal paid him more money to not work than to simply show up and do nothing at Warner Bros. How times change.

Both of these books are worth the read.


3 thoughts on “The Doobie Brothers and Producer Ted Templeman, Part 2

  1. Good stuff, Mike. I wasn’t aware of Tom Johnston’s solo work and might check it out. I tend to prefer the early, more rock-oriented Doobies over their more pop-oriented sound during the Michael McDonald era. That said, McDonald is a decent and soulful vocalist.

    Liked by 1 person

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