The Rock Star Inside AVI-SPL’s Felix Robinson

Drunk Unkles bassist plays music ‘for the right reasons’ — to help industry peers, and to have a good time with friends.>

Before launching the career that has led him to be VP of AVI-SPL‘s enterprise accounts group since 2007, Felix Robinson was bassist for the Casablanca Records group Angel for seven albums and couple of tours in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Although he put down his bass for many years, these days he can be found a few times a year playing charity shows with fellow industry musicians and friends the Drunk Unkles, who recently celebrated what they call A Decade of Defiance with a
show during InfoComm 2015 in Orlando, Fla.

The Drunk Unkles have raised more than $1 million for more than two dozen programs launched through the NSCA Education Foundation. The annual InfoComm gigs draw hundreds of industry friends looking to blow off steam after a long day on the trade show floor.

“We try to put together a fun evening for everyone,” says Robinson. “We’re not an oldies band. We play country, blues, R&B, really whatever we’re in the mood to play. We’re a party band. We’re constantly changing repertoires.

“It’s about playing music and having fun. It’s such an enthusiastic experience. We’re playing music for the right reasons. There are no particular musical aspirations. We’re just up there to have some fun. Everyone comes to let loose, take off their ties and have fun.”

Robinson “continued to dabble” in music after Angel’s original run came to an end (the group would reform in the late 1990s), but he didn’t make his full-fledged return until Cliff’s Jam, an impromptu show that was the launching point for the Drunk Unkles when they were known as the Steve Emspak Blue Band.

Cliff’s Jam raised more than $60,000 for the family of former Shen Milsom & Wilke AV design engineer Cliff Gouvier, a mutual friend of the members who died when he was struck by lightning. Robinson notes that some of the companies that sponsored that gig are still supporting the Drunk Unkles today.

Mixing Business and Pleasure

In his day job, Robinson manages key accounts for AVI-SPL and oversees the development of business and relationships for the largest systems integrator in the industry. He came into the AV business about 26 years ago, starting with his own business before working for another integrator and then going to PRG, a company that was later acquired by SPL, which eventually merged with AVI.

He came from a musical background and says he has always enjoyed recording songs in his own studio and performing and producing music, all tasks he still enjoys today with his Drunk Unkles bandmates.

“I learned my craft through technology,” says Robinson. His music career started in St. Louis before taking him to Los Angeles. After Angel, he was still “playing as a hobby” when the Drunk Unkles heeded the call to put together Cliff’s Jam in 2002.

The success of that first show — which was largely intended to be a one-time gathering — and a pre-AES jam including three members of the band, attracted the attention of NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson, who asked the Unkles if they wanted to work with his organization. Robinson says he never forgets why the Drunk Unkles got together and why they stay together.

“People come into our industry and need help,” he says. “A lot of people can sometimes take that for granted.”

About the Author

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Craig MacCormack is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering local and national news and sports as well as architecture and engineering before moving into his current role. He joined Commercial Integrator in January 2011.

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