Gary James' Interview With CSN&Y Drummer
Dallas Taylor had it all. He was the drummer for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He knew people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. He was rich. He was talented. He was on a roll. Then his addiction to drugs and alcohol came into play. In 1994, Dallas Taylor chronicled his life in the book Prisoner Of Woodstock.
We spoke to Dallas Taylor recently about that book and his life and times in the music business.
Q - Dallas, why in the introductions to your book Prisoner Of Woodstock, does Graham Nash refer to you as a prisoner of Woodstock? What does that mean?
A - What I initially meant it to mean was, I remember when I first got sober we were talking about some of my experiences in the music business and I was saying whenever I see a Vietnam vet, we seem to connect and relate. It's as though we both share the kind of PTSD. Obviously theirs was much worse, but mine was self-inflicted. I mean I did come very close to dying. So I think I was trying to relate it to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. There's a portion in the book where I do see a Vietnam vet at Woodstock and it just struck me. It just sounded like it would be a good title for the book. I was kind of a prisoner of my own addiction and my own ideas of what the sixties were as far as doing drugs was OK. And it turned out not to be that way.
Q - You write; "I hated crowds. I was always afraid that people would discover that I was the no-talent, average looking asshole." Did you fear crowds? Is that where the drugs first entered the picture here? Maybe you didn't have a lot of self confidence.
A - Being levitated and looking over a crowd is not the same as being down in the crowd. It didn't matter where I was. It was an addiction of self-loathing. It was really difficult for me to feel like I deserved anything. It seems like the more successful I got, the worse I felt because I somehow felt like a frog. I've come to learn a lot of alcoholics feel that way. We have the uncanny ability to grasp failure from the jaws of success. Being in crowds is very scary, as it was proven at Altamont. Crowds can get weird. (laughs) Crowds aren't people. Crowds are a mob. It's claustrophobic.
Q - You were with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young when they performed at Woodstock (in 1969). That was only their second gig. Were any of the guys nervous?
A - Well, as Stephen (Stills) states in the book, he was scared shitless. You know, we were all nervous. It was our time to prove ourselves. It was either we were gonna fail miserably or be a success. So, we were all scared. If you looked out and saw a sea of people, I imagine you'd be scared too, to play and be rejected. We were a new band. We were not well rehearsed. I'll tell you what was more scary...were the people onstage that surrounded us, watching. The crowd is surreal, cameras and all the crew talking about... I remember waiting to go on and some guy came up to me and they usually start it off with an acoustic set and then I would come out. They guy said "You know, these are my least favorite people out of all these groups." (laughs) I don't think he even realized who he was talking to. But, we were under a lot of pressure to make it sound good 'cause we had no idea the record was taking off the way it was.
Q - You pulled it off. That was an amazing performance. How long had you been with the group at that point?
A - I was with the group almost from the inception. We all kind of got together doing a John Sebastian recording session. I remember them talking about how great they sounded together and they were gonna practice and do a Folk record, a Country / Folk record, no electric instruments. So, I didn't pay that any mind. They went off to England to rehearse. I guess they signed a deal with Atlantic at the time and when they came back we both ended up in the same limousine in Long Island, going out to John Sebastian's house. That's where we kind of got to know each other a little bit. I had done some demo sessions with Stephen and of course he hadn't paid me, which should have given me a hint. (laughs) I met Graham in the John Sebastian session. I remember Crosby used to come and see my band, Clear Light. So, we had all been kind of acquaintances. We knew who each other were. Now, they were much more famous than I was. I was kind of this up and coming kid, but starting to get a lot of recognition. We ended up jamming out at John Sebastian's house and they asked me to join the band. And it was a done deal. At that point I think the real connection was between (Stephen) Stills and I. We really played Rock and Roll. We just seemed to anticipate what each other were doing. It was the same kind of magic that they had vocally. So, it was a perfect combination. So, I had to finish the John Sebastian record and they already scheduled their studio times. Now, things are starting to change. Since they added me to the mix, now it was going to be more Rock 'n' Roll, the electric part of it. Graham wasn't too happy about that. He wanted to keep it acoustic and vocally and all that. But Stephen was really the rocker. But, I sit in such enamor that Graham really liked it. They actually started recording while I was finishing up with John Sebastian. They brought this drummer in, Jim Gordon, to do a couple of songs and when I got back to town, I said "What's up?" They said "Oh, we couldn't wait." What I ended up doing is recording over a couple of the tracks Jim Gordon did and then finishing the album from there. And then once we finished the album, Graham and David went off sailing and it was left to Stephen and I to try and find a bass player and try to put the band together. We didn't really have a 'live' band. So, that's how it started.
Q - So, you knew from the beginning that this was a special group of musicians that had gotten together?
A - Oh, sure. Everybody did. They used to call 'em supergroups back in those days when the particular stars from each band got together. But yeah, this was special. Their vocals were just spectacular. It was the right time for them.
Q - Was Stephen Stills the businessman for the group?
A - Well, in the beginning, yeah. He was Ahmet Ertegun's fair haired boy. He was actually the guy that had to deal with Atlantic initially. Ahment really loved Stephen. He's the one who really took him under his wing. So, yeah, Stephen was kind of the front man at that point. Graham and David were fine with that. Stephen and I would go into the studio and record the music to the songs and Graham and David would come in and put the vocals on. It's kind of understood. In the beginning it worked out really well. Where it started to go badly, and this is kind of a mixed blessing, is when Neil came into the band. For us, he was a last minute choice. Stephen and I traveled the world asking George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood, all these different musicians to join the band, and nobody was really interested. I guess apparently what happened was Elliot Robertson and David Geffen were like life long friends got together and talked Stephen into giving Neil one more chance. I was nervous about that, not because I didn't like Neil, I liked him a lot. I knew that the reason Buffalo Springfield broke up was because of the fighting between the two of them. So, it just didn't make sense to me. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel good. Then the issue started with the name. We were trying to figure out a name and it just kind of stuck as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Of course that kind of left me out in the cold. As the drummer, I think they felt I was more expendable than anyone else and I guess in reality that's the truth.
Q - Well, not really. Try replacing drummers in the most celebrated groups of our time and you'll find the mix would've been entirely different.
A - In my humble opinion, I don't believe that album ("Deja Vu") would've been the same without me on it. I think I added a certain element of heart and groove to that music. I don't believe they've had as successful a career since I left. They've certainly been successful, but most of it has been riding on the waves of those first albums, "CSN" and "Deja Vu". That's what put us over the edge.
Q - And another thing...Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young has a nice ring to it.
A - When we were looking for members of the band, we weren't sure of calling it that. We were looking for names. We were messing around with names. At one point we were joking around and thought we'd call it The Frozen Noses 'cause at that point, that's when the cocaine started coming around. So, it just kind of morphed...I guess that's the way it was meant to be. So, that kind of edged me out. The way we rationalized it was, I was still going to be a member of the band and get well paid and get a piece of the action. They said "you'll be the mystery guy", which you know, I was a kid. I didn't know. It wasn't a good time for me.
Q - You write in the book "As a kid in Phoenix (Arizona) I had played with two of his (Alice Cooper's) band members. Which two?
A - Well, when I said played with I meant literally we were kids. Little kids on the same street...on Flower (Street). God, I wish I could remember the guitar player's name.
Q - Michael Bruce?
A - Michael Bruce is the guy I grew up with on the same street.
Q - How about the other guy?
A - I think he was the only guy that was on that street.
Q - Did you go to any of the early Alice Cooper gigs?
A - No. I wasn't part of that at all. It was just a coincidence that Michael and I knew each other 'cause we grew up on the same street. They all grew up in the same neighborhood. So, I imagine I had met a few of 'em. The only person I remember 'cause he grew up on my street was Michael.
Q - As long as we're on the subject of names...did you ever meet Jim Morrison and / or Jimi Hendrix?
A - Well, yeah, as a matter of fact I signed my first record contract with Elektra records with Paul Rothchild. We were in a band called Clear Light. We had two drummers. We were what was known as a psychedelic band. Paul Rothchild had actually just gotten out of jail and had just discovered and signed The Doors. He had produced Judy Collins, Arthur Lee and Love, Paul Butterfield. So he was starting to become a big-time producer. He signed us right after he signed The Doors. So we ended up in the same studio...Sunset Sound. They were in Studio "A" and we were in Studio "B". Our bass player Doug Lubon even ended up playing bass on a lot of their songs. So, I saw Jim all the time. It wasn't until after I joined Crosby, Stills and Nash that he actually would come up to the Shady Oaks house and hang out and talk. He was one of us. He was a drunk. (laughs) He was somebody who needed to get sober. Very talented, very sensitive guy, that drank too much. And, we all did. As far as Hendrix goes, I met Hendrix in New York first when I was with Clear Light. I remember a couple of us ended up sitting in and playing with him at a place called Steve Paul's Scene, which was really kind of a basement, shady little nightclub that a lot of great bands were playing in, coming through. A small place. Jimi and I of course ended up fighting over the same girlfriend and that was the end of that until later on he ended up... I remember one night Stephen and I; he showed up at Stephen's house and I was there. So, we played. Every time he played, the tape recorder went and I guess Stephen still has a lot of that stuff.
Q - Wouldn't that be an interesting release!
A - I hope he hung onto it. One of the songs ended up on Stephen Stills record, but I didn't play on it.
Q - What I've always found so strange is that some guys like Morrison and Hendrix will fall by the wayside. Other guys like Keith Richards keep on going. How is that possible? What's the explanation for that?
A - That's a very good question. I tried to be that guy for years, but I'm just not that guy. Luckily enough I survived my time to be Keith Richards, and frankly I wouldn't want to be Keith Richards. God bless him. He can have it. The truth is it's an addiction and it's progressive. Alcoholism is deadly. Most of us who have that genetic pre-disposition to it...died from it. And then there's those freaks like Keith and once in awhile there's somebody out there who can stay loaded their entire life and live to be a ripe old age and for some reason it doesn't kill them. But most of us it kills and I believe the ones like Keith are in the minute, micro percentage. That's why I do what I do now.
Q - How's your health these days?
A - Well, I wish it was better. I had a liver transplant fifteen years ago (1991) and I'm currently on a kidney transplant list. I feel good. Everybody says I look good. But, I need a new kidney to keep going. These are all the consequences of my actions. Listen, the fact that I survived this long is unbelievable because I didn't do any less drugs than those guys, Keith Moon or any of those guys that I used to hang out and get loaded with. They died and I didn't, and neither did Keith. (laughs)
Q - At one point you were a counselor at this Exodus Recovery Center?
A - Yeah.
Q - Are you still there?
A - No. What I do now is interventions. I do consulting work with other treatment centers. My life is based around helping other addicts.
Q - Would you have been at this Exodus Recovery Center in 1994 when Kurt Cobain checked himself in?
A - Yeah.
Q - Did you talk to him?
A - Yeah.
Q - I thought it was strange that after he checked himself in, he just walked out. One would think there would be better security.
A - It's against the law to keep people against their will, unless you're a psychiatrist and it's clearly stated that they're a danger to themselves or others. I'd love to lock people up, but you can't. Everyone is an adult and is free to walk out anytime they want. That's just the way it is. If you're an adolescent it's a different story. But Kurt had many more problems other than addiction. He was extremely depressed and suicidal. All you had to do was listen to the kid's songs, how much trouble he was in. That's what happens with addiction. Why do people check themselves into treatment and then relapse? Of course it doesn't make any sense. The disease doesn't have any rationalization. It just goes to that most primitive part of our brain. It doesn't care about you. It doesn't care about me. It doesn't care about anybody, but getting high.
Q - What do you listen to today? Any current singers / musicians?
A - No. Not really. Most of the music I listen to, I sit in my studio and make it myself. (laughs)
Q - But you're a drummer. Does that mean you play other instruments as well?
A - Yeah. I sing and write songs.
Q - What do you do with this music?
A - Nothing. I just listen to it. I don't care to be back in the business. I really don't. I don't care to be back in the business. It's too much work and it's too crazy. And, I don't think there's much of a business and the record companies don't know what to do. The business is finally the snake that ate itself. The crap that's out there is homogenized and awful. There's a couple of jewels amongst all the crap, but most of it is crap.
Q - What would the jewels be?
A - I don't know. I really like the work of Alice In Chains. I really like that kid from Blind Lemon. There's a couple of 'em out there that rock. Certainly Alannis Morrisette is wonderful. There's some great talent out there, but, it's few and far between. It's not like there's fifty great bands like there used to be. Every week some DJ with balls would discover a new band. The music was dictated by the people who loved it, not the accountants. Now it's like, "Ok, didn't sell ten million, so drop him." It's ridiculous. That's why everyone has turned to the internet.
Q - You write about "groupies" in your book. What did you think about what they did to get close to their favorite singer or musician? Did you pity them?
A - No. I married 'em. (laughs) Some girl would like me and sleep with me and I'd ask to marry her. We loved women that proudly called themselves "groupies". That's all they did, was follow bands around. Remember the Plaster Casters?
Q - Sure.
A - I loved 'em. They were great kids. They were lost, just like we were, but shit, I married a couple of 'em.
Q - The famous ones?
A - Well, the famous ones wrote books and got rich. (laughs)
Q - Would you have lived your life any differently had you the opportunity to back and live your life over?
A - Well, my father wanted me to be an airline pilot. I don't know. That's a loaded question because everything that brought me to where I am today...I've never been happier. I'm in a great relationship. I own a beautiful home. My life is better than it's ever been. So, if I had to pay those kinds of dues to get here...that's OK. Of course if I could do it over again I wouldn't be an addict. But, I don't have a choice in that. It's generic and I have a whole family history of it. I was doomed from the first beer I drank at thirteen.