The Thinking Drummer: Work Hard Like David Santos

hard work
Hard work trumps talent. In fact, the real talent? The ability to work hard. Focus, determination, guidance, and a superior work ethic will create opportunity for you.

Practice for hours on end. Practice until you can’t screw up. Then go practice some more. That’s what it takes.

I have heard many successful people talk about this notion. Will Smith, for one. I saw an interview with him where he declared that he wasn’t a great actor, but work? He will outwork anyone, and he credits a lot of his success to that.

I agree with this whole heartedly.

So, read about David Santos. He is a bass player who has played with John Fogerty, Billy Joel, and many others. He was toiling away in NYC, playing any gig he could. Then an opportunity arose.

I didn’t even know who David Santos was until I read about him in an email from Bob Lefsetz, a wide-reaching blogger who writes extensively about the music business. Within the Lefsetz email was the note below, from “Rev. Bill,” who was responding to another Lefsetz blog posting about Billy Joel.

Read it. It’s inspiring. Then go practice.

From: Rev. Bill
Subject: Re: Billy Joel At Vanderbilt

About 15 years ago, I was doing a magazine for musicians called GIG. Through a series of weird coincidences, i got hooked up with a guy named David Santos who wrote for the mag about being a working bass player for a couple of years. He went on to play with The Neville Bros, Julio Iglesias, John Fogerty and a bunch of others but at that time he had just gotten his big break playing with… Billy Joel.

The story of how he got the gig falls in lockstep with a lot of stuff you tell musicians (except that David was a sideman). He was living in New York, playing whatever gigs he could get. Got booked on a couple of high-end weddings where the sax player was Mark Rivera who has been with Billy forever. Mark dug David’s energy and the fact that he did not just phone it in even though it was “just a wedding gig.” Later that year, Mark goes out with Ringo Starr on on of the All-Starr Band tours. It was the year when Ringo’s kid tragically died at home while Ringo was over here. When RIngo left, so did John Entwhistle and somehow it fell to Mark to bring in a drummer and bass player to finish the tour. Mark called Liberty DeVito who played with Billy up until a few years ago and he called David.

David goes out and finishes the tour. At the end, Liberty and Mark sit down with him and tell him that Billy is not currently touring but might again soon and would he be interested in the gig. He says “of course.” And here is where it gets cool.

David decides to prepare for a call that may never come. He moves to Nashville because he feels he can work on learning better there. He sits down over a period of months and learns to play every single song from every single Billy Joel record ever recorded. Something like 150 songs.

The call comes. Kind of. Mark calls and tells David there is no tour but that Billy is doing VH-1 Storytellers. No rehearsal and they will probably just play a couple of songs but can he come to New York for a one-off TV gig. David goes. It is similar to the college gigs. Billy talks about the songs and interacts with the audience. David has barely met Billy. Audience member asks about a little-known gem of a song called “Summer Highland Falls.” Billy says he really can’t play it because there is a bass line that is crucial. David waves from the side of the stage. Billy sees him and asks, “Do you know it?” David says yes. Billy calls him out to the stage and they do the song. David ends up on stage for almost the entire show with Billy asking “Do you know this?” on every tune and getting a “yes” on every tune. At one point he comments tothe audience that he has just met this guy and never played with him and he “knows every song i’ve written.”

David ended up playing with Billy for a long time including the Elton and Billy tours and the millenium concert at madison Square Garden. And the Billy gig led to every other thing he has done.

All because he DID THE WORK…


Hard work. You can’t beat it. Are you working hard enough?