Farewell Dallas Taylor, CSNY Drummer and Recovery Advocate

By Matthew Greenwald 02/02/15

Aside from his early fame in rock & roll, Dallas (1948-2015) was a beloved member of the Los Angeles recovery community, and worked both as an interventionist and a sober coach since getting sober in 1985.

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Dallas Taylor, former drummer for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, among other artists, died in a Los Angeles area hospital on January 18. While he had battled a number of ailments (he survived a liver transplant in 1990) Taylor ultimately passed away from complications surrounding viral pneumonia and kidney disease. He was 66 years old, and is survived by his wife, Patty Davis-Taylor, his three children from earlier marriages, and five grandchildren. 

Aside from his early fame in rock & roll, Dallas was a beloved member of the Los Angeles recovery community. He had worked both as an interventionist and a sober coach since getting sober in 1985. His reputation was sterling, and he had particular affinity with celebrities, helping numerous high-profile musicians and actors, etc., in recovery. His ability in this area was particularly refreshing, as he shied away from the Celebrity Rehab-cult of personality approach, preferring to handle his clients with a more discretionary, down-to-earth method. 

Born and raised in Texas and Denver, Taylor began his musical career after transplanting to Los Angeles in the mid '60s. He was one of two drummers in the Clear Light, an LA-based psychedelic outfit who were regarded as an LA-version of The Grateful Dead, or even more accurately, a junior version of The Doors. The band made one album for Elektra Records in 1967, and also appeared in the hilarious 1968 James Coburn film, The Presidents Analyst, which also featured folk-rocker, Barry McGuire. Their album achieved some minor cult status in England, but only made #126 in the U.S. charts. 

After the band broke up in 1968, Taylor began a career as a session drummer. One of his first projects was performing on former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian’s debut album, which was cut in 1968, but wasn’t released until 1970. It was at these sessions that he became friendly with Buffalo Springfield founder Stephen Stills, who was guesting on the album along with former Byrds member, David Crosby. The results were excellent, and Taylor‘s ability as a studio player impressed Stills and Crosby so much that they invited him to play on the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. Dallas’ performance on this album was noteworthy, and even though he wasn’t as intense a drummer as John Bonham, Ginger Baker or other virtuosos of the era, he played with a level of taste and restraint that beguiled both the ear and the heart. Stills developed an affinity for Taylor. Stills was by and large the musical director of the album, playing most of the instruments himself—he was a drummer as well. And Taylor seemed to naturally play the types of fills and grooves that Stills would have played had he been behind the kit. They had a near-telepathic musical connection. 

The album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, was a huge, immediate success. After adding Neil Young to the group, they started performing live, including a legendary set at the Woodstock festival in August of 1969. The group embodied the heart and ethos of the era, and was looked upon as the American Beatles. Along with the fame went money, and of course, drugs. Aside from marijuana and psychedelics, the band and those surrounding their organization were becoming quite familiar with cocaine—Dallas sampled eagerly. In his 1994 autobiography Prisoner of Woodstock, Taylor commented that his romance with legendary singer/songwriter Laura Nyro ended when he bragged about purchasing his first ounce of cocaine. But Taylor’s addictive habits apparently began in his childhood. According to a People magazine article, Dallas remembered that he suffered ulcers as a child, and his mother treated them with a preparation that contained codeine. 

Following the recording of the CSN&Y Déjà vu album in 1970, Dallas was relieved of his drum chair when Neil Young told the rest of the band, “Either Dallas goes or I go…” at a group meeting. This was a musical decision rather than a personal one, as Young wasn’t particularly fond of Dallas' slightly loose grooves. He remained a part of the extended family, though, and Stephen Stills used Dallas to record his first two highly successful solo albums, which included the hits “Love The One You’re With” and “Change Partners” in 1970/1. Many of the tracks for these albums were recorded in England where Dallas found that pharmaceutical heroin was easily available through registered addicts, and soon became one himself. 

In 1972, Stills began a project that is now seen as the highlight of his solo career, a band (and album) called Manassas. Dallas was heavily involved in the project, and was even credited as a co-producer. The music was an amalgam of Americana, combining rock, blues, folk, latin and country music into one seamless whole that was enthralling. Their first album, a double, went gold and the band had created a reputation as one of the finest live acts of the era. An excellent example of their work and Dallas’ fine drumming can be found here:

As fine as things were going artistically, Taylor’s life was headed toward a drug-fueled ditch. The band broke up in 1973, and Taylor’s condition found him cross-addicted to heroin and cocaine. He was eventually fired by Stills. According to Taylor, Stephen gave him as many jobs as he took away, but he was clearly becoming unreliable. In 1975, Paul McCartney inquired to Stills as to Taylor’s availability. McCartney was in the process of forming his second version of Wings, one that would be eventually touring the world in 1976 to huge audiences. Stills confided to Paul about Taylor’s condition, and told him that “his arms are shot out.” He didn’t get the gig.

I saw Taylor play with Stills in about 1979, when he played The Roxy. Although Dallas’ playing was fine at the beginning, it was clear that he wasn’t in great shape, and a relief drummer was brought on during the last part of the show. This rocky road continued through the '80s and Dallas Taylor the musician was, indeed, washed up. Even the noted man of excess in rock, the late Keith Moon, was taken aback by Taylor’s narcotic consumption, and commented, “Dallas, you do too much drugs…”

Heroically, after numerous attempts, he got sober in 1985. His lifestyle contributed to his liver disease, and he underwent a successful operation in 1990. A benefit concert to fund his transplant was held in Los Angeles, which reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. After becoming sober, Taylor became an accredited recovery counselor. His widow Patty told the LA Times that Dallas “found that he loved it. He identified with these kids and saw each in himself. He saved a lot of lives and his own in the process.”

I had the opportunity to meet Dallas on a couple of occasions, once at the bottom, and once on the brighter side. In the 1980s, I was beginning my own drug odyssey, and I had a chance encounter with him at a dealer's house in the San Fernando Valley. His face resembled the color of paste (and mine wasn’t much better). It was a long way from the choral Aquarian camaraderie of Déjà vu, and darkness was in the air. I could tell that he didn’t want to be recognized, so I left it with a simple, “Hey, man.” I saw him again around 2008 at an NA meeting. He seemed to remember me, and we congratulated each other on our mutual survival. 

Dallas Taylor helped to revolutionize many lives through his music as well as his work in recovery. He will be sorely missed.

Matthew Greenwald is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Mojo/U.K., Analog Planet, Record Collectors/Japan and other outlets, both print and web. He currently writes and records music in duo with Greg Berg called The Holy Smokes, based out of San Clemente, California.

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