By Charlie Weinmann
It’s no secret that for a great deal of professional musicians, healthcare can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially from the road. It can be hard for working musicians to determine what their best path might be to get the care they require. If anyone understands the ins and outs of the issue, it’s Lou Santiago Jr., who believes he can offer a solution.
Meet Lou: a professional drummer and board-certified PA in emergency medicine–a title he earned in 2019. A profession that for the past month and a half has had Lou working the front lines in NYC hospitals battling Covid-19.
“I’ve unfortunately seen many patients pass away,” he said. “I’ve lost two colleagues, and have colleagues who have lost family members.”
But despite the hardships that he and his colleagues face and witness each day, Lou recognizes the importance of being at work if he’s able, and focusing on the task at hand, which is something he learned to do in an earlier phase of his life.
Lou has created a unique vantage point for himself through what he’s experienced over the years. Before Lou found success as a drummer, he served in the United States Navy as a Cryptologist and a Combat Search and Rescue swimmer where he received training in advanced first-aid. His intent was to save enough money to be able to follow his dream to become a drummer, and attend the Drummer’s Collective in NYC, known today as The Collective.
When he left the military and accomplished that goal, Lou spent the next 17-years as a professional drummer, touring, recording and performing with artists such as Jeff Deyo, John Benitez, Natalie Grant, Adam Nitti, Christine D’ Clario, Alex Acuña, Luis Conte and legendary trumpeter Maynard Ferguson in his Big Bop Nouveau Band. In 2003, he won the Modern Drummer Undiscovered Drummer contest. In 2007, Lou started 99 Cent Drum Lessons, which rivaled Mike Johnston in the early days of online drum lessons. But something he had yet to experience would spark an idea in Lou’s head that would put him on the path he’s on today.
Lou had spent some time in Mexico touring with a Christian contemporary artist. While there, he joined a missions trip, where he witnessed a medical brigade tend the small village.
“I just kept hanging around the clinic,” he said. “It was apparent that this village needed the help they were providing, but I just couldn’t help but think of the music community back home “our village”. I wasn’t seeing anybody bringing legit medical attention to us as a musical community.”
Then one day several years later, he realized his desire to pursue a career in medicine, and chose to step away from the music industry while he studied.
“I never envisioned myself becoming a medical professional. I mean, I’ve got tattoos on my neck,” Lou said with a laugh.
But now Lou is back on the drum throne, making him (possibly) the only world-renown professional drummer who is also a board-certified medical practitioner.
At the NAMM Show this year, Lou announced to his endorsee companies and musical colleagues that he has returned to the world of professional music. He would be moving ahead with a new vision that connects music and medicine, and would bring the knowledge he continually gains in the medical world directly to the musical community. He plans on starting this initiative officially in 2021 with his company Musician Med by way of a podcast he will call “Musician Med, Health That Grooves.”
Lou says that with Covid-19 being a top contributor to everyone’s anxieties, he’s been making a point of going live on social media to share what he knows with his community. He feels he can provide a trustworthy perspective specifically for musicians with questions.
“Hearing from one of your own is different than hearing it from some other source that may have a slant or an agenda,” Lou said. “This is straight from someone who’s fighting it on the front lines and also happens to be a professional drummer.”
Adjacent to his work fighting the Corona Virus and serving as an informant on the topic, Lou sees an opportunity to help musicians with a wide range of other health concerns that are bound to pop up over time, beyond the lifespan of the current pandemic.
“I know what a professional musician can encounter on tour,” said Lou. “I can advise on how to prevent injury, and also where to go if an injury or sickness develops, in order to save the most money. Because so many musicians can’t afford healthcare. … I know what doing a little van/trailer tour is like. I know what seven months in a tour bus is like. I know what the private jet life is like. I know what a touring musician goes through, and what they’re exposed to, and what the potentials are for them.”
He says that where he’s at now, he is seeing his two careers meld into one.
“All the molecules and pieces of this plan are moving together, and I just want to be ready to serve my community,” said Lou. “I’m here as a genuine person who legitimately wants to bring value to the lives of people, and help to prolong that value through education and community.”
He’s also bringing back 99 Cent Drum Lessons as a way to provide an affordable learning opportunity for musicians who seek it.
“It really is just that–99 cents! Some lessons are 28 minutes, some lessons are eight minutes, but they’re all 99 cents. And the student gets to keep them for 99 years.”
During this time where everyone in the world is feeling the effects of taking pause, Lou Santiago Jr. is thinking about the future. He’s a fighter who believes in the power of communication and community, and his efforts and plans for the future should at least strike a hopeful tone with musicians.
“My heart erupted for medicine, and all the while I’ve been thinking about our community as musicians,” says Lou. “Now that I’m back, I’m going to enact my plan that I’ve been developing over the past ten years.”