Tag Archives: Local 47

Los Lobos Recognized as NEA 2021 National Heritage Fellows

The recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts 2021 National Heritage Fellowships, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, includes California-based musicians Los Lobos of Los Angeles. The lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations.

Los Lobos, a Chicano band from Los Angeles, has defined the East Los Angeles sonic landscape for nearly a half-century. Formed in 1973 by guitarist/accordionist David Hidalgo of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and percussionist and lyricist Louie Perez, the group later enlisted guitarist Cesar Rosas, and bassist Conrad Lozano, also of Local 47.

As young, music-loving Mexican-Americans from the barrio, they were a product of their surroundings, applying African-American influences such as the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and doo-wop as a natural complement to the deep and soulful Mexican and Latin American sounds they had grown up with. It all combined to give birth to their unique sound. The wildly successful soundtrack of “La Bamba” (1985) catapulted Los Lobos into international stardom and earning them a Grammy Award.

AFM Members Take Action Together to Secure a Healthy Pension Fund

In February, more than 85 AFM members participated in the union’s first legislative advocacy phone bank, reaching out to fellow musicians in congressional districts key to the future of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.

The AFM Organizing and Education Department worked with AFM player conferences to engage members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) to join in the legislative department’s targeted Zoom phone banking campaign to make sure key committee members would support the inclusion of pension relief in the upcoming reconciliation package. In all, over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters in targeted districts across the country were contacted by volunteer callers. 

Zoom phone banking brings volunteers together online at the same time for a quick educational introduction to the purpose of calling and offers instructions on completing the call list sheets. Callers, while on mute, remain on Zoom feeling connected to the group action, and can reach out to staff with any questions.

“This was a great way to connect to our union brothers and sisters around the country, even as we can’t make music together,” said Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “When we raise our voices collectively, we cut through the noise and ensure musicians are heard by decision-makers and protect our ability to retire in dignity.”

Violinist Mei Chang, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined several virtual phone banking sessions. “The camaraderie in the Zoom was great and made calling people I didn’t know much easier,” said Chang. “I am inspired to continue doing advocacy on behalf of my fellow working musicians, and hope more of us can join in on the effort.”

The AFM-Employers Pension Fund is one of over 100 multiemployer union pensions in critical status because of aging demographics, declining participation, and reduced contributions. The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 outlines solutions to help solve shortcomings in multiemployer pension plans and protect our retirement and the retirement of tens of thousands of our fellow musicians.

Screenshot of one of the more than 20 AFM organized volunteer Zoom phone bank sessions conducted in February and March.

Modern Drummer Legends: Alex Van Halen

This installment in the Modern Drummer Legends series about drummer Alex Van Halen of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), includes Van Halen’s three Modern Drummer cover stories, transcriptions of classic Van Halen tracks, beats, and fills, a deep dive into his unique snare sound, and a 2020 interview.

Modern Drummer Legends: Alex Van Halen, Modern Drummer Publications, www.moderndrummer.com.

Out on the Coast

The David Angel Jazz Ensemble

Out on the Coast is a triple CD set released by the David Angel Jazz Ensemble, a Los Angeles-based 13-piece jazz band. The style of the music—which is all composed or arranged by David Angel—is described as “Gil Evans meets J.S. Bach with all 13 musicians playing polyphonic lines.” It is swing and Latin music reminiscent of the 60s West Coast jazz scene with impressionistic classical elements.

The band members are among the finest jazz musicians on the west coast and all members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA):

David Angel: tenor sax, conducting

Phil Feather: alto sax, soprano sax, piccolo, flute, alto flute

Gene “Cip” Cipriano: alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet 

Jim Quam: tenor sax, clarinet

Tom Peterson: tenor sax, flute, alto flute

Bob Carr: baritone sax, bass clarinet

Jonathan Dane: trumpet, flugel horn

Ron Stout: trumpet, flugel horn

Stephanie O’Keefe: horn

Scott Whitfield: trombone

Jim Self: tuba, bass trombone

John Chiodini: jazz guitar

Susan Quam: string bass 

Paul Kreibich: drums

Joni Mitchell: Lady of the Canyon

This is the story of one of the most important female recording artists of the last 50 years. Joni Mitchell, a longtime member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), began singing in small nightclubs in her hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan before busking in the streets and nightclubs of Toronto, Ontario. In 1965, she moved to the U.S. and began touring. With popular songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock,” she helped define an era and a generation.

Joni Mitchell: Lady of the Canyon, by Michael A. O’Neill, Sona Books, www.danannpublishing.com.

Luis Conte

The Value of Networking and Niceness in the Music Game

As a child growing up in Santiago de Cuba, Luis Conte was surrounded by music. The radio was always on in his house, and someone was always playing guitar, piano, percussion, or singing. There was music everywhere, and it seeped into his pores, into his brain through osmosis, he says. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, while the music never stopped, it certainly caused many things to change, including the entire direction of young Luis’s life.

For one, Communist rule banned a lot of Western music. “We had to hide to listen to [rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and jazz],” Conte says. “My dad had this German-made shortwave radio, and he would help us find the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other stations. My friends would come to my house and we would go into this little room where you could play the radio and nobody would hear, and we would listen to the Beatles.” He and his friends found one show, broadcast in Spanish, that would play all the current hits, “so I heard the Stones, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys, you know, everybody, and I just loved that stuff.”

The Communist revolution had another effect on Conte’s life: One month before he turned 15, his parents sent him away from his family and his home country to avoid the mandatory military draft that started at age 15, to find freedom in another land. He went first to Spain, where he stayed with Jesuit priests for four months, then to Hollywood, California, where he moved in with his father’s third cousin—a man he had never met—who acted as his guardian.

In American high school, Conte says he “got the bug” and realized how much he loved music. He played guitar in a high school garage band, and of course he played drums— “because it’s just what you did in Cuba”—but he had not decided to pursue music as a career. He went to Los Angeles City College, taking the basic classes, and after a few music classes he decided he wanted to be a professional player.

The Turning Point

“Here’s the strange thing: I’m going to a night class one night and suddenly I hear conga drums. This is the first time I had actually heard a live conga drum since I was in Cuba, because percussion was not really a big thing in the US back in the 60s and early 70s,” Conte says. “The African-American Student Union was throwing an event, and I just heard the congas and I forgot about my class. When [the musicians] took a break, I went up to the conga player and said, ‘Hey man, where did you buy these drums?’ He told me, and then I asked him if I could play his. And let me tell you something, that was the moment when I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got to buy one of these drums; I’ve got to get into this!’ That was the turning point.”

Conte bought himself some conga drums, started going to clubs, meeting people, networking, sitting in on sets and playing wherever he could—weddings, parties, clubs. He was evolving his musical style, which integrates the powerful rhythms of his native Cuba with the American necessities of American pop music. As a hand percussionist, Conte plays a myriad of instruments: conga, bongo, timbale, maraca, clave, guiro, bombo leguero, shakers, tabla drum, pandeiro, and more. “Being a percussionist is like being a geographer,” he says. “These instruments come from all over the world—Africa, Brazil, Colombia, the Middle East. I try to cover it all.”

Conte’s first break, when he really got his name out onto the scene, was the day he joined Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) in 1974. “I figured, there’s a musicians’ union, and if I go there, I may find a gig,” he says. “Well, guess what? I’ll never forget this: I run into this guy I played with at the clubs; I didn’t know he was a union guy. I said, ‘Hey Johnny, how are you?’ He said, ‘There was a couple people here looking for somebody to play percussion.’” They had left their number and Conte immediately went to a pay phone and called.

“Being a percussionist is like being a geographer. These instruments come from all over the world—Africa, Brazil, Colombia, the Middle East. I try to cover it all.”

The people were the band The Hues Corporation, who had just recorded a new song called, “Rock the Boat,” and they were doing auditions for a percussionist. Conte got a ride from a friend to the house where auditions were being held, and he got the gig. It turned out to be a gig for the band’s RCA Records promotional tour throughout the northeastern US. “Little did I know that they had just recorded the record and it was going to be a hit,” he says.

Conte spent a year on the road with The Hues Corporation, playing great venues with star musical acts, doing television shows like Soul Train, and constantly meeting new people, networking with musicians. When the tour took the band to Europe, Conte could not go because he was in the US on a Cuban passport and could not get a visa, so he went home to LA. After that tour, Conte spend a lot of his time hanging out at Local 47 headquarters. Back in the early 70s, Local 47 had three or four rehearsal rooms and members had to visit the local in person to pick up their checks. “I remember seeing Don Ellis and his orchestra rehearsing there a bunch of times,” Conte says. “I met Chino Valdes and got advice from him. I remember meeting Luis Miranda. So, if you wanted to see Victor Feldman, you just go to the union and maybe meet him. I thought it was a cool place to be.”

The Value of Networking

Conte also was constantly performing at local clubs and continuing what he felt was an extremely important pursuit of networking. “Networking is not just calling people; it means to be a nice guy, to get along with people, talk to people, meet people, and always be nice,” he says. “That’s advice I got from my dad. My dad always used to say the important thing in life is to be a nice guy and be pleasant with people, and that was one of the best things he could have ever said to me.”

Through Conte’s use of networking, playing in LA clubs got him an audition with The Supremes, which earned him work playing for Diana Ross when she performed solo. By 1987, Conte was constantly employed, but after a chance social meeting at a Christmas party, his career went to a new level after being invited to audition for Madonna and getting the gig playing on her Who’s That Girl World Tour. “God only knows, you know? I went to a Christmas party, and that guy calls so-and-so, and he says you should call this guy, and that’s how it works,” Conte says.

In addition to playing with Madonna, Conte has worked with major artists including James Taylor (Local 802, New York City), Dave Matthews (Local 123, Richmond, VA), Kenny Loggins (Local 47), Eric Clapton, and Elton John, among countless others. His long and varied career has also included studio work performing on multiple Hollywood film scores and successful albums of other artists, as well as being a bandleader and producing his own solo work. Among his numerous accolades, Conte has won one Grammy and been nominated for three others; he has been named Percussionist of the Year six times in Drum Magazine and four times in the Modern Drummer Reader’s Poll; and in 2018 he was named Cultural Ambassador of Instituto Latino de la Música (ILM).

Some of his most memorable professional moments, however, have been on the stage. Conte says playing live in front of stadium crowds of 200,000 people (as he did with Madonna) or 300,000 people (as he did with James Taylor) is an unreal experience. Playing with amazing artists is another highlight of his career, he says. He remembers moments when he played with the Cuban jazz band Irakere.

“These are major players who came to the US to play 15-20 years ago, during the Cuban embargo. They were doing a clinic at UCLA, but their percussionist couldn’t get a visa. I got a call and was asked, ‘Do you want to play with them?’” Conte recalls. “Now I’ve listened to this band and literally know every song, every record, every note that’s been recorded. So, when I went there … I got there 10 minutes before they’re supposed to play [because a recording gig went long]; I missed soundcheck. They’re all standing there ready to get on stage and I walk in and I was like a groupie. I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m here playing with you guys; I know all your music.’ And they’re just looking at me like: ‘Wow. Okay. Let’s play.’” After the first song ended, the bandleader Chucho Valdés turns around and says to Conte, “Hey man, everything you were telling us is true, you really do know our music!” “Those are the moments that are really
meaningful to me musically,” Conte says.

Going Through the Union

Conte does not have a manager, and has never had one, saying he has never found a need to pay someone 15% when he made his career successful on his own. Of course, there are dangers in the musical world, such as not letting yourself be taken advantage of by managers or in contracts. In addition to the community and solidarity aspect of being an AFM member, Conte says his 46 years as a member of Local 47 have especially benefitted from the union’s help in getting health insurance and in receiving residuals and special payments for his recording work.

“In the recording situation, that’s the deal. There’s a lot of young players who have asked me, ‘Why do you have to do it union?’ Sometimes you get calls from somebody who’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this; do you want to go through the union or can we just pay straight?’ I always say, ‘No, we’re going through the union,’” Conte says. “I just got a residual check from a song I recorded with Yolanda Adams probably more than 10 years ago. I don’t even remember what the song was—and that’s why you do union work. That’s when they come through for you; some of these guys don’t get this. The union is a body that protects us in this business of music.”

Since COVID hit, Conte has been doing what most musicians have: practicing his craft and working in his home studio. When not playing music—and moreso lately due to the pandemic—Conte is an avid chess player. “One thing I love about chess is that it’s a true gentleman’s game,” he says. “There’s no cheating; there’s a respect and a politeness to it that is awesome. And then on top of that there’s just so much information. There are so many ways you can move, so many complications to different openings and things. Once you get into it, and understand what it is, it’s just fantastic, and you can spend hours.”

Basically, Conte says, there is not much happening in the musical world now. “Just stay healthy and exercise, study, work on your craft and don’t give up playing,” he says. “Keep your eyes on the prize; keep the faith; that’s where we’re at right now.”


Luis Conte endorses:

  • Meinl Percussion (Conte also has his own signature series of instruments)
  • Zildjian cymbals and sticks
  • Remo drumheads
  • Gibraltar hardware

Los Angeles Philharmonic Ratifies Side Letter

At the end of November, Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians—members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)—ratified a side letter to their current contract, which will be in effect through September 22, 2022.

The side letter creates a four-tier system for compensation, with salary during tier one set at 70% of the previously bargained rate. Salary will increase in subsequent tiers, growing to up to 85% of previously bargained wages by tier four. Advancement from tier to tier is planned to happen on a set schedule but is also dependent on audience capacity restrictions being lifted in the orchestra’s venues.


Anna Maria Mendieta

Classical Harpist Treads New Paths Playing Tango

Anna Maria Mendieta has no trouble recalling the dayspring of her lifelong love affair with the harp. At age five, her arts-loving parents (her mother was a pianist and accordionist; her father played classical guitar and saxophone) played a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and the overture swept her away.


“They told me the story of Romeo and Juliet and I remember being so amazed because you can really hear it in that music, and there’s this moment where everything becomes silent and all you hear is this beautiful harp. And that’s when I knew: That’s what I want to play,” she says. “I sat there with my ear right up to the speaker and I had them play the recording for me over and over again.”

Unlike Shakespeare’s infamous star-crossed lovers, Mendieta’s love was requited not too much later. Her parents started her on the piano while they figured out the logistics of harp studies and found her a teacher. “My father was a great collector of instruments. He had all sorts of things, even a harpsichord! But no harp,” she says. By age seven, she had begun studying the Salzedo method with Israeli harpist Efrat Laury-Zaklad at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. “I took my first lesson and I knew; clearly, there was never any wavering from that.”

The towering physicality and visual beauty of the harp—and the highly-aesthetic Salzedo method in particular—have always been part of the appeal for Mendieta. The visual sleight-of-hand that keeps the audience’s eyes on the graceful gestures of the arm and away from the foot pedaling action that determines the harp’s key is a dance in itself. (“Now you know the secret to the long gown,” she slyly whispers.) For her, the connection with dancing offers a certain familiar comfort: alongside their musical studies, Mendieta’s parents encouraged their children to study dance. The family’s Spanish heritage made flamenco an important point of cultural connection (one of her sisters is a professional flamenco dancer), but it was after Mendieta’s career as a professional harpist was well-established that she found a new love: the tango.

Like so many people, Mendieta found the tango through the compositions and performances of revolutionary Argentinian composer and virtuoso bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla, whose nuevo tango style changed the face of both classical music and tango. Falling in love with the music and its accompanying dance, Mendieta sought out harp arrangements of Piazzolla’s work. Finding none, she wrote directly to Pablo Ziegler, Piazzolla’s former pianist and the preeminent composer and performer of nuevo tango, to see if he had anything that might work. No luck. “I said, ‘Just send me what you have and I’ll figure out how to play it,’” she says.

“People told me it wouldn’t work, there was just no way. ‘You can’t play tango music on a harp, it’s too chromatic,’ they said. And it was a real challenge,” Mendieta recalls. “Astor Piazzolla’s music is so incredible. He uses his instruments not only as melodic instruments but as rhythm instruments. It took me many, many years to figure out how to do that on the harp. I had to change my technique in order to get the sounds. To play the chromatics, I figured out different ways to bend the notes.”

Mendieta realized that the methods used by jazz harpists to use the pedals of the harp strategically to create slides and slurs could provide a basis for this new technique. This, of course, went against everything she had ever learned about the pedals: be as gentle and quiet as possible so as not to lose the clarity of notes; move feet with subtlety so as not to distract from the hands. Suddenly, she found herself using the pedals like a pedal steel guitar player would: bending her notes in real time while also getting creative with enharmonics, using them to substitute for chromatics when an extra note was needed without a pedal change. “I was also incorporating percussive sounds, like the chicharra sound of the violin [a method of playing the violin string above the bridge for a cricket-like percussive effect], but I had to figure out how to make all those imitative sounds. I just basically made it all up,” she says.

Mendieta’s creativity in making the tango work on the harp resonated with many of Piazzolla’s former orchestra-mates and contemporaries, who found echoes of Piazzolla’s own rule-breaking in this new tango frontier. Mendieta has played with a number of these musicians and has spent significant amounts of time in Argentina both studying and teaching, alongside names like Pablo Ziegler, Javier Cohen, and Daniel Binelli.

A surprising moment in Mendieta’s touring concert and show, “Tango del Cielo,” comes when the male principal dancer walks over to the harp and takes her hand, leading her to the dance floor. “Oh, the audience loves that, they really don’t expect it,” she laughs. Learning to dance the tango was, for Mendieta, crucial to understanding the deep feeling and rhythms of the music.

Even as she treads new paths in the tango field, Mendieta has not abandoned the music that made her fall in love with the harp in the first place, as the harpist for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and a fixture throughout the California classical scene. Her work with the Sac Phil, along with regular performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles, has made her a rare AFM triple-carder: Local 12 (Sacramento, CA), Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), and her original Local 6 in San Francisco, with whom she first signed on as a teenager.

Union membership has not only afforded Mendieta performance opportunities, networking, a safety net, and the knowledge that there were people who had her back, but also a wealth of opportunities to develop personally as both a performer and a business professional through the extensive continuing education programs on offer. “Local 47 in particular has that great new building and they offer so many interesting workshops—all kinds of things, from technology training to tax information, as well as every kind of music you can imagine.”

With COVID threatening the livelihoods of so many artists (and the venues in which they play), Mendieta sees the AFM as crucial in helping musicians stay connected, sharing ideas and inspiration and outside-the-box thinking, and lobbying for survival.

Personally, Mendieta spent the shutdown finishing the Tango del Cielo album that she’s had on the back burner for years. It was partially completed but never quite finished due to near-constant performances and teaching.

“I just had not found the time to finish it,” she says. “So early on, when it seemed like things might be closing for a week, maybe two, I decided to take the opportunity to go into the studio and finally finish recording my parts, and I’m so glad I did because mixing them—which I did digitally with my producer—gave me something to do in those early weeks, and I did finally get the whole thing finished and released!”


  • Lyon & Healy harp (Salzedo Model)
  • Horngacher harp
  • Premier harp strings (“I like the clarity of their strings.”)
  • Portastand Minstrel music stand (“It’s so lightweight, it’s solid and sturdy, plus it’s small so it doesn’t block the sightlines of the harp during performances.”)

Self Made Fool

George Marinelli

Self Made Fool is the latest solo album by George Marinelli, a longtime session player, writer, and producer, and AFM member for 48 years. In addition to his numerous solo projects, Marinelli, of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), was an original member of Bruce Hornsby (Local 125, Norfolk, VA) & The Range, and has been a member of Bonnie Raitt’s (Local 47, Los Angeles, CA) band since 1993.

“As usual, this album reflects my love of rock & roll along with Afro, reggae, and everything else,” Marinelli said. “It started as I was rebuilding my studio, WingDing, in our new house. I had to record something to see if anything worked, and nine months later it was an album.” Marinelli did all the instruments and vocals; he recorded, mixed, and mastered the album; and he also created the artwork.

All proceeds from Self Made Fool are being donated to Habitat For Humanity, the charity that builds homes for the needy.

Alex Acuña

For Drummer Alex Acuña, His Storied Career Has Been a Mix of Talent and Opportunity

Some say the term “living legend” gets tossed around a little too often. But when you’re the drummer of choice to lay down the beat behind household names for more than half a century, the title is not only accurate—it’s earned. Alex Acuña of Local 47 (Los Angeles) has been the driving rhythmic force behind celebrated and diverse greats from Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, and Diana Ross, to the Gipsy Kings and Carlos Santana. In addition to live concerts and tours, he has worked extensively in recording studios, and on film and television. Along the way, Acuña has racked up several awards and garnered acclaim as one of the most accomplished, versatile, and affable musicians of his generation.

It’s certainly a long road traveled for a boy from a small town near Lima, Peru. But for Acuña, the choice was easy growing up in a musical family. “All my older brothers were musicians. When it came time for me to play, the drums called.” Still, Acuña recalls, he had to get the approval of his family. “I had watched their rehearsals and knew all the songs, but it was still the first—and only—time in my life I was auditioned to play,” he laughs. “Afterwards, my mother came out of the kitchen and said, ‘Now he’s going to start working.’ I was 10.”

Acuña’s first “official” gig was a street festival, one of those parties which typically went long into the night. “I played for two hours. Then I fell asleep behind the drums,” he remembers. “I recognized then that this was a gift, and it was what I wanted to do with my life.”

At 16, one of his brothers urged him to come to Lima because there weren’t many musicians like him there. “I was already into listening and playing all kinds of music,” he says. “We had a radio station that played a bit of everything. I loved it all, so I never put myself in a box with styles or expectations.”

His first big break came with a TV spot at the age of 18, playing drums for Cuban Mambo king Perez Prado’s tour stop in Lima. “Prado liked my playing and brought me to the US for a 10-month tour,” Acuña says. Following his first American experience, Acuña wanted to retain his green card, so in 1967 he moved to Puerto Rico to gig and also study at the music conservatory. There, he came under the influence of the conservatory’s director, the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals. The young Alex had played a bit of trumpet, and also some piano, so he had learned to read music, which made him more adaptable. “Casals wanted me to have experience playing in a symphony orchestra,” Acuña says. “It served me well much later when I got back to the US and started working on film scores.”

But before the film scores came several years of work in Las Vegas, culminating in one of Acuña’s proudest achievements: drumming on two acclaimed albums with the pioneering jazz group Weather Report between 1975 and 1977. “Those albums had so much impact and influence,” he says. “I got to work with great musicians like Jaco Pastorius on bass and Wayne Shorter on sax. Looking back on those times, it’s like the equivalent of playing with Michael Jordan in our field.”

In LA, Acuña chalked up a list of session collaborators far too numerous to name, reading like a Who’s Who of music. Film and television work also came his way. “I typically got called to play hand percussion because I can read it well,” he says. He is particularly proud of a short moment in John Williams’ soundtrack for the film Amistad, which called for six djembe players. “I had a good idea what to do, so I sorted it out between all of the percussionists on the session. The whole orchestra turned around, because they had never heard anything like it. It’s a 10-second spot in the movie, but it opened a big door for me anytime they needed hand percussion.”

The pandemic meant a cessation of work for many musicians, Acuña included—but just before, he took part in sessions for Mulan, and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film version of West Side Story.

One constant for Acuña since the early days has been union membership. “When I went to Lima, my mother told me to join the union,” he recalls. “I’ve been a union member wherever I’ve landed, for 56 years.” He also made it a point to go to meetings and get to know the union office staff. “It makes sense to know who’s taking care of the situation in recording sessions.”

Acuña, an avid teacher, also tells all his students to join, and why. “You can’t just make music. You need to understand everything that happens and be current,” he says. Acuña has also started getting an AFM pension. “And I’m still contributing to my pension because I’m still working. I have money coming every month, whether I’m working or not. That’s what the union does. Young people need to hear that.”

These days, Acuña maintains an easy blend of family, music, and spirituality. “I have a home studio and I’m up early every day practicing,” he says. “I have a beautiful wife. She studied opera at Indiana University. We’ve been married 42 years, five kids, nine grandchildren. Everybody plays music. Even the dog sings.” Martial arts also figures highly in Acuña’s life, and he has been a practitioner since he was 20. “I train every day. Music, dance, and martial arts tie together,” he says. “They’re all about tempo, muscle memory, and movement.”

Acuña is thankful for the life he has had. “The bit of education I had taught me to follow the musicians around me, but ears, eyes, and grooves—those three big elements—helped me make the most of my opportunities. I’ve been blessed to be in the right places at the times. But also to play the right way.”


Alex Acuña is endorsed by:

‡  DW Drums

‡  Gon Bops Percussion

‡  Sabian cymbals

‡  Vic Firth drumsticks

‡  Evans drumheads

He also designed signature Vic Firth sticks and the caddy stick bag, and a signature line of instruments from Gon Bops Percussion.