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Bass guitarist with Bill Haley and the Comets became an Adventist?

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[ taken from http://www.newsregister.com/news/story.cfm?story_no=173533 ]

Former rocker chooses life over fame

Published: November 22, 2003

Louis Torres was hurtling hell-bent down a path to self-destruction when, at age 21, he decided to quit his "dream job" as bass guitarist with Bill Haley and the Comets and, instead, turn his life over to God.

In the long term, that decision in the late 1960s most assuredly saved his life, Torres said. But in the short term it led him to put his life on the line as an Army medic.

"When I left Bill Haley to become a Christian, I also became honest," he said. "So I wrote the draft board and said, 'I've been evading the draft, but here I am.'"

Very shortly after coming clean with the draft board, he received a letter with its reply: "You are hereby inducted...."

Torres served as a medic in the Army in Korea, trying to save lives. Some of his friends didn't make it back.

After completing his service, he studied for the ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist faith.

It was an unlikely outcome for a youth who grew up in almost unimaginable poverty and found early success in a vicious inner-city gang.

Torres, who is Puerto Rican, grew up in Brooklyn in a world he said was very similar to that depicted in "West Side Story." Along with his five brothers, he grew up desperately poor. And along with them, he was eventually seduced by the power and money that could be theirs as gang members.

He got involved in gang activities before he reached his teens, and eventually became a leader in the New York Dragons, the largest Puerto Rican gang in the city.

It wasn't the kind of success their mother had hoped - for any of her six sons.

"Mother raised us, even though Dad left when I was just a few months old," Torres said. Others offered to take in some of the children and raise them, he said, but his mother was determined to keep her family together.

"I am very, very grateful that she kept us together," he said.

His mother's spirituality was her own special blend of Catholicism and spiritism, he recalled, and she was very devout, in her own way. Every time air raid test sirens went off in the city, which was quite often, she would stop wherever she was, raise her hands and pray aloud for the safety of each of her children, by name.

"It didn't matter where she was, she did this right out in public," Torres said. "If I was with her, it embarrassed me, and I would try to get away and pretend I wasn't with her."

Louis got interested in music as a possible way out of poverty when he was 11.

The family was much too poor for him to take lessons. Still, his mother somehow managed to give him a guitar that Christmas.

It was a dime store guitar, though, and not the bass guitar Torres needed to take his place in a band.

"Some friends and I were trying to put a group together, but there were already two guitarists in the group, so the only opening for me was to be bass guitar," he explained.

He used the ingenuity born of poverty to make it work.

He taught himself bass guitar by loosening the strings on the gift guitar "to make them produce as low of notes as I could," he said. Then he took an old phonograph and listened to 45 rpm records at 16 rpm, trying to hear and replicate the bass part.

"I suppose that's a good thing about being poor ®¢ it motivates you and you have to use ingenuity," he said.

But that ingenuity also led to some bad things.

"I became a warlord. I made toy cap guns into zip guns that shot real .22 bullets. We used them in our gang fights because we couldn't afford real guns."

Torres became more and more open about ridiculing religion and anyone who was involved in religion.

When he was about 13, he joined friends in forming a band, Donnie and the Twilights, and experienced some success.

It was heady stuff. "We had tailor-made sharkskin suits," he recalled.

By the time he was 15, his band was part of the rock 'n' roll scene in New York City. That brought another of the trappings of "success." "Drugs came into our lives," he recalled.

The band's lead singer, Donnie, had been a really good kid and wanted to be in a band only because he loved to sing. But he was found dead on the ground outside his home, apparently of a drug overdose.

"He had such a beautiful voice that Count Basie wanted him to come sing with him," Torres said. "It was devastating."

Without Donnie, the band reformed as The Vampires. They found more success, and with that came more drugs and degradation, Torres said.

"It isn't anything you plan on. You get caught up. It's part of the environment," he said.

The young musicians were invited to hang around and party with performers who had been their idols.

"When I saw that they were doing drugs, I thought, 'Well, that must be cool, because they're cool.' Now and then I would feel a sense of guilt, but I was so young and I wanted to be rich and famous. I felt I had to accept the bad things as part of the package."

One all-night drug party stands out in Torres' memory.

"When we were all high, someone raised the question, 'Who is God?' We talked about that all night. And I remember thinking then, 'If there is a God, I'm really in trouble!'" It frightened him so much, he said, he pushed the thought away.

Eventually, he was invited to audition with Bill Haley and the Comets, and he got the job. He was happy for a lot of reasons, he said, including his belief that with this band there would be no drugs.

"They were so reputable, and I thought surely they were not involved in that depth of wickedness.

"I was wrong. One of the band members had a $200 a day drug habit, which was a huge amount of money in the '60s. After the concerts, he would lock himself in a room and do drugs." Though Haley was not involved with drugs, Torres said, he frequently overindulged in alcohol.

Torres increasingly struggled with ambivalent feelings about his so-called success. "I would feel a void. I tried to fill it with alcohol and drugs, but that just wasn't working. "

Shortly before he was due to leave on a major tour with the band, he went home to New York, where things had changed considerably among his brothers. One had become Christian, joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

"He talked to me about the coming of Christ and it infuriated me," Torres recalled. "But I could see he was different now. There was a peace about him and he didn't need to go fight or carouse."

Still, Torres refused to allow his brother to speak of religion. Then another of the brothers was baptized, and Torres reluctantly went to the service out of respect.

"After he was baptized, my brother, who had seen and done terrible things in our gangs, and had seemingly felt nothing over them, he cried!" Torres said. He left that service wondering about Christianity.

"I wondered if it was possible for me to change," he said. "But outwardly, I still argued whenever they tried to talk to me about it."

He figured he could put those thoughts on hold until after his world tour with The Comets, but the tour was postponed. While he was waiting, he went to a dance in his old neighborhood.

He went up to the balcony and looked down at the scene. "I realized it was all empty, all vanity," he said.

At 21, he took the first step toward a new life.

I asked, "'God, if you're there, do for me what you did for my brothers.' I prayed, I felt guilt and I cried for the first time in years ®¢ it was as though I had had no feeling for years ®¢ and I asked forgiveness."

He quit his job with the band and wrote that fateful letter to the draft board.

He has been a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and more recently an evangelist, ever since graduating from Union Pacific College. He married, and his wife has been an important partner in ministry.

His brothers and mother all became Seventh-day Adventists.

"Two of us are pastors and others are teachers. Our mother lived to see that, and it made her very happy."

Torres and his wife live in Laurelwood, near Gaston. His wife, Carol, is the president of Mission College in the former Laurelwood Adventist Academy facility there. The couple has three grown children and five grandchildren.

He is working in evangelism and has written several books, including "Left Behind or Sincerely Taken?", that he hopes will help others.

"I spend much of my time trying to encourage young people," Torres said. "I'm trying to help people find new hope. The Bible wants us to have hope.

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Guest enzo ciminiello

testimony is a very powerful yet simple way to lead others to Christ. There is so much hope here. I encourage all of you to share your testimony

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