The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

Amazing Transformation

Walter Santos: Doo-Wopping to a Different Beat

By Tim Branson
The 700 Club His friends call him Santos. As a percussionist, he’s recorded and shared the stage with greats like Charlie Daniels. He grew up in the Bronx where he learned to play and develop a love for doo-wop.

"On a Saturday night you could go through the neighborhood park, and the Italians were usually doo-wopping and... the Puerto Ricans had the congas, and the bongos out," recalls Santos.

"I just progressively got into the neighborhood funk band, and we started playing at parties, and then the Beatles invaded the U.S. -- and we started to get a little bit of that groove going," he says.

Santos first break into music came early, when the jazz band he played in landed a gig at Carnegie Hall.

"The place was packed -- sold out. I showed up with my drums. I’m on stage in front of all these screaming people at Carnegie Hall, and I was just like, 'Wow, I’m here.' Usually people work years to play at Carnegie Hall, and I started out there."

Music was his life. Santos made a name for himself as a studio musician in New York. He had also developed a habit of using drugs.

"As far back as I can remember with drugs, there was always emptiness inside -- just a longing to know why I was created, and why I was put here. I didn’t really have a family unit to really grow up with," he says.

"But the minute I touched it [drugs] something happened. It just hit that spot. You know, whatever that spot is inside a person. it gave me that instant courage. It gave me that sense of security, peace, and I knew I needed this stuff everyday."

In the mid 1970’s, he landed a job with the band, Fandango and went on tour. By now, his drug habit had become a full blown addiction.

"I remember a few times having seizures on the tour bus and all the band members going, 'What’s wrong with you, man? You were foaming at the mouth and flopping like a fish out of water,” he says.

"It got bad. Then it gets to the point where you start thinking that maybe you should kill yourself because there’s no relief from this madness."

Santos was arrested in New York for selling narcotics and was released on five years probation. He moved to Miami and eventually founded a gig playing for 1960’s rock legend, Dion, who at one time had drug problems of his own.

"I got to the studio, and he’s [Dion] doing a Gospel record, and I looked at him -- and he’s reading the Bible in the studio. Usually in the studio you don’t see the Bible. That’s the last thing you see, " remembers Santos.

Excited to see him, Santos said, “Hey Dion, how you doing? How did you ever get off of drugs?”

And he [Dion] said, “Funny you should ask.”

"And he proceeded to tell me how he got born again," says Santos.

Santos sensed something different. There was a security and quiet peace about him that attracted him.

"I connected with Dion right away. And then I realized, you know -- that he was set free. He’s not using drugs anymore. He’s not self-destructing anymore."

"You know, that’s a nice story -- nice that it happened to him, but that couldn’t happen to me," he thought.

Three weeks later, Santos tied a vacuum cleaner hose to the tailpipe of a car and attempted suicide. After a brief stay in a state hospital, Santos contacted Dion. "I remember calling Dion up and saying, 'Dion, I want what you have.'

And Dion's reply: “You know, we have a Bible Study tonight down in North Miami, why don’t you come on down?"

"I got there, and they asked me to go up and pray. I received Christ that night, and that was 1981," recalls Santos.

"The Holy Spirit hit me like a freight train, and I knew something happened. I can’t explain it, but I knew something happened. It was kinda like going into a dark room and flipping on a light switch."

With counseling, Santos got off the drugs. And for five years he traveled with Dion, sharing his testimony and faith. He married, moved to San Diego, and joined the staff of a local church. But Santos got into debt, and his marriage failed. After 10 years he was headed for a crash.

"I picked up pills instead of picking up the Bible. But as soon as I touched it, it was like I awoke this sleeping tiger inside of me, and boy -- he got big, and he started tearing me up," says Santos.

He returned to New York and a life he thought he left behind. He got addicted to heroin again and went downhill fast.

"And man, I just remember the power of that drug coming back to me. I felt so full of shame and guilt knowing that I knew the Creator, the master Jesus. And I left him."

"I took a massive shot of heroin, and my heart stopped. I was in the Bronx in this building. The guy that I was buying my drugs from at the time beat me in the chest and made a lot of racket. I remember coming to -- I was on the floor looking at the ceiling going, 'What did you do?'

The other man told Santos, “[I thought] you were dead. I beat you in the chest and got your heart going. I was praying to God to bring you back.”

"He was praying to God to bring me back. And I looked at him and said, 'You should have left me dead. I don’t want to be alive. I denied my only hope,' ” he says.

Friends from church convinced Santos to return to San Diego. He entered a drug rehab program at a place called Calvary Ranch.

"The first thing I did when I got to Calvary Ranch was say, 'Pastor Tom,' -- he’s the guy that runs Calvary Ranch -- 'I’m dying. Can you help me?' And he took me in his interview room and said, 'You need to get right with God right now.' ”

"I started doing ranch chores, working with the pigs, and listening to the counsel. I was just being loved by God. And all I kept praying for at that time was, 'God, all I want is your peace back in my life,' Santos remembers. "And Pastor Tom told me to say a simple prayer: 'I love you. I’m sorry. Forgive me.' And I did."

Santos is still off the drugs and on track with God. He keeps close ties with Calvary Ranch, helping where he can. He’s recorded several CD’s, including Street Corner Symphony. The lyrics are Christian, but the music is none other than that doo-wop sound. He travels the country now, sharing his story and God’s message of love and peace to drug addicts, inmates, and anyone else willing to listen.

"With Christ all things are possible, and my life is beautiful. I know my mission and my calling is to be faithful to God. He’ll take care of all the details. Everywhere I go, I use the music as a vehicle to express that incredible love that God has for us. Even when we fail Him, He doesn’t fail us."

"Don’t wait -- yesterday’s gone and will never come back. Tomorrow’s not here, so do it now. God will restore you. I’m living proof of that. I failed at being a Christian, but God didn’t fail me, and He’s unfolding such a beautiful plan for me. I didn’t think that was possible after such devastation. But if He can do that for me, he can do that for you. He gave me what I need to do ministry and put it all together after failure, destruction, and death. He restored and made me knew. Gave me a second chance."

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