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Years of Abuse Catch Up With Dallas Taylor: He Needs Liver Transplant

January 27, 1990|STEVE HOCHMAN

How bad was veteran rock drummer Dallas Taylor's drug and alcohol abuse back in the days when he was a key sideman for one of rock's most celebrated groups, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?

It was so bad that no less than Who drummer Keith Moon--something of the poster boy for the rock 'n' roll party life and himself later a casualty of it--cautioned Taylor about his excesses.

So bad that the band--whose David Crosby rivaled Moon's self-destructive behavior--fired Taylor after the Los Angeles-based group completed its 1970 album, "Deja Vu."

"Keith was always rock's No. 1 bad boy--he invented the whole thing with trashing hotel rooms," Taylor, now 41, said recently. "But I remember him telling me, 'Dallas, you do too much drugs.' "

But Taylor didn't truly learn the price for his substance abuse until last November, nearly five years to the day after he finally became sober, when he found out that drugs and alcohol had destroyed his liver.

"No doubt about it," said Dr. Maxine Ostrum, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center internist who diagnosed Taylor's problem after a series of high-fever and internal-bleeding incidents. "Most frequently, a cirrhotic liver comes from alcoholism. Drugs just add to it. And also he had hepatitis-B from drug use."

The prognosis: "He has terminal liver disease," Dr. Ostrum said. "Unless he gets a liver transplant, he's going to die, and he's going to die in the near future."

Taylor, born in Denver but raised in San Antonio, came to Hollywood while still a teen in 1966, putting together a band called Clear Light, which released one album on Elektra. He then recorded with John Sebastian, through whom he met Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash as they were preparing to record their debut, for which virtually all the music was performed by Stills and Taylor.

"I was the first drummer ever to get royalty points on an album," he said.

With the follow-up, CSNY's "Deja Vu," Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves received co-star billing on the cover. But already Taylor was on the decline.

"I was 20 when I joined Crosby, Stills and Nash," he recalled. "By the time I was 21, I'd made my first million--and my last million."

Remarked Taylor's wife, Betty Wyman, daughter of former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, sitting with him at her mother's vast Bel-Air house, "That's what happens when it goes to cars and up your arm."

Despite being fired by the group, Taylor continued to work with the individual members, drumming on Nash's 1970 "Songs for Beginners" album and Stills' first two solo albums. He joined Stills' band, Manassas, and through the '70s worked with numerous artists including Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and Sammy Hagar. But by the '80s, work was sporadic.

Lately, though, things had been looking up. Before his illness was discovered, Taylor had nearly completed "Prisoner of Woodstock," an autobiography currently being shopped to publishers. Actor Judd Nelson, a friend and fan of Taylor's, has expressed interest in playing him in a movie based on the book. He'd also cast his eye on a career in film and TV scoring, with tutoring in contemporary recording techniques and technology by producer-composer Snuffy Walden, who does the sound tracks for "The Wonder Years" and "thirtysomething."

But, for now, all future plans are on a wait-and-see basis. And waiting has been particularly hard. The recent holiday season proved especially frustrating for both Taylor and Wyman, a treatment coordinator at a prominent Van Nuys drug rehabilitation clinic, knowing that a major portion of organ donors are auto-accident victims.

"I know that 95% of the accidents on the holidays are alcohol- and drug-related," Taylor said. As a volunteer rehab counselor at the ASAP Family Clinic, where he met Wyman three years ago (they've been married a little more than a year), he's played a part in keeping alcohol and drugs off the road and is struck by the sadly ironic twist that each casualty prevented represents one less potential organ donor.

"As of September, there were 761 patients waiting in the U.S. for liver transplants," said Patricia Folk, liver transplant coordinator at Cedars-Sinai. Since the first successful liver transplant in 1967, she added, more than 5,000 have been performed in this country, as many as 2,000 last year alone.

"Between 75% and 80% of the transplant patients survive one year after the operation," Folk said. "And 70% to 75% of them survive five years."

But organs are still hard to come by, as many people are uneasy enough with the idea that they refuse to allow themselves or their loved ones to serve as donors.

So Wyman and Taylor wait to hear the beeper he wears so he can be alerted that a donor has been found. It has remained silent, but the phone has rung constantly.

"The old boys are rallying around," Taylor said. "It's incredible to think of the people who have called: Don Henley, Steve Perry--he offered to give blood."

Added Wyman: "Graham (Nash) and David (Crosby) have been calling every couple days, and we've gotten messages that Stephen (Stills) is devastated by this. People can be together for 25 years, squabbling like siblings, but in a crisis it's very moving the way they come around."

The most important contacts for Taylor, though, are the patients at the ASAP clinic.

"The kids there are just repeating what I did--the 'Let's go platinum and die' attitude," he said. "From them I get, 'You're old and you got sober and you're OK.' But now they see I'm not."

POP DATE BOOK * Tickets go on sale Sunday for the Go-Go's one-time reunion concert March 28 at the Universal Amphitheatre, benefiting the Environmental Initiative. . . . On sale now is Warrant, Feb. 20 at the Santa Monica Civic. . . . Boogie Down Productions will be at the Palace on Feb. 3. . . . Grace Jones will be at the Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 14. . . . A fourth Laurie Anderson date has been added at the Wiltern Theatre, Feb. 11.

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