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Home » Officer Columns » Dick Gabriel Retires as Head of EMSD, Bill Thomas Succeeds Him

Dick Gabriel Retires as Head of EMSD, Bill Thomas Succeeds Him

  -  AFM International President

Dick Gabriel, who served Local 47 and the Federation in various capacities for more than 35 years, most recently as director of our Electronic Media Services Division, retired on January 16, closing a career that has benefitted thousands of professional musicians.

Even before I began my tenure as an AFM Local Officer with Local 72 (Fort Worth, TX) in 1983, I had become well acquainted with Dick Gabriel. In the early 1980s President Fuentealba appointed Dick to head the AFM’s West Coast Office, which was located across from the famous Capitol Records building in Hollywood.

Bob Crothers, the venerable Recording Department senior staffer and Executive Assistant to the President who had served with President Petrillo, referred to the West Coast Office as an “outpost,” as if it were some distant station on the western frontier. And as I came to know and understand Dick, what he did and what he was able to accomplish for the Federation and for our members from that location, Crothers’ nickname for the office rang true.

The West Coast Office was indeed a remote trading post of sorts, with Dick as broker, barterer, and master tradesman, handling the media companies, the agents, producers, artists, contractors, and members, all flocking to the door, all with their particular entanglement of the day, their worries, their burdens, their claims, all confused over what contract to use and what terms to apply, and all asking those age old questions, “What are we supposed to do? Can you help us?” I know. I was one of them.

Dick was remarkable because he had been there. As a musician, and later as a Local 47 business rep, he had seen it all from an important vantage point and he knew the cast of characters. For me, as a young musician, Dick provided invaluable insight and assistance when I fought and settled a trademark infringement case against Warner Brothers Records in 1982.

I remember when I actually met Dick Gabriel, at the Denver Airport in February 1985 while attending the Western Conference of Locals, chaired by Local 20-623 (Denver, CO) President Tasso Harris. We shared a cab to the hotel and I talked his ear off about what we were doing to organize recording back in Fort Worth. Dick asked me to make a presentation to the conference, which included an update about the new Fort Worth-based Radio Shack jingle account, the radio shows from Billy Bobs Texas and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition radio and TV services that we were administered locally under the appropriate Federation agreements.

Dick was my point person in the Recording Department (now EMSD) when I began my campaign for a new limited pressing sound recording agreement that would reflect the realities of custom recording work being done across the Federation field off-contract and below scale. Later, in the early ’90s, after the merger with Local 147 (Dallas, TX), Dick, along with Crothers, his mentor, worked with me to bring legendary Dallas sell-tune library syndicator Tom Merriman back under contract, bringing thousands of dollars of session wages, benefits, and residuals from darkness to light, improving the lives of some of the greatest musicians in the world.

These are just a few of the many stories that I could recount about the years of incredible work by Dick Gabriel. I know I am only one of hundreds with such stories to tell.

And so, it was immediately after my election as your president in June of 2010 that I called upon Dick to accept a position he held years before—that of EMSD Director—to help restore communication with our rank-and-file recording musicians, to re-establish and rekindle relationships with production people at all levels, from executive producers right down to the payroll services, to build credibility and trust, and to deliver my message—that the AFM will chase those who exploit us to the ends of the earth to protect the rights of our members, especially when money is due.

Over the better part of his adult life, and alongside six AFM presidents, Dick Gabriel served with honor and distinction. On behalf of our entire membership, I wish to express my deep gratitude to him for a job well done and our best wishes for a well-deserved retirement. And as we bid fond farewell to Dick Gabriel, we also extend a warm welcome to Bill Thomas, our new EMSD Director.

Bill comes to us courtesy of SAG-AFTRA, where he was executive director of the 33,000-member Los Angeles Local, a post he held from 2006 until early last year. While there, he directed a staff of 70 individuals and oversaw a budget of $16 million. As chief executive of the LA SAG-AFTRA local, his responsibilities included strategic planning, relationship management, media contract negotiations, team development, and the planning of organizing campaigns. He served as a member of the boards of directors for advocacy organizations such as Film LA, the Western Regional Council of the Actor’s Fund, and the AFTRA Frank Nelson Memorial Sick and Benefit Fund. Prior to his work with SAG-AFTRA, Bill served ASCAP for 14 years, eventually rising to the position of assistant vice president and chief of staff for the organization’s New York City office.

We are fortunate to have Bill Thomas at the helm of our Electronic Media Services Division. He is the right man for the right time. I am excited about working with him in the months and years ahead as we develop newer and more efficient ways of improving the lives of professional musicians everywhere.

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