by LYDIA COBB | photos by Spark Photography

Low Key and Upbeat

faces_henkel_1Blues and jazz artist Robin Henkel performs throughout San Diego and beyond when he’s not composing and mentoring student musicians. At 64, he’s known his share of downs and outs and glittering successes. “I became a working musician exploring the world of hard knocks as I pursued music as a career,” shared Robin on his 40 years in the scene. “I feel comfortable and established, as well as honored with a satisfying sense of regional recognition.”

He plays more than 20 shows a month. His music is the blues – country blues. “Not really ‘country’ as in country western, but rather blues that grew out of the harsh conditions for workers in the Mississippi Delta,” added Robin. He calls it the “guts and soul of a deep-rooted American tradition” that influenced many bands, he pointed out, from the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin. Robin has performed with Jumbalayah, Johnny Almond, Sha Na Na, Big Jay McNealy and San Diego Symphony, to name several. He has opened for Dizzy Gillespie, BB King, Arlo Guthrie, among many legends. Robin also plays in his jazz band once a month and reflected that “one of the more profound American art forms” is underappreciated. He put it this way, “Public appeal is not a prerequisite to the creation of true art.”

Robin graduated with a B.A. in political science from Cal Western (now Point Loma College) and from the class of ’69 at Kearny High School. In his work with students he advises, “You’ll need that love and commitment to get through the discouraging times when it’s not going so great. And if you don’t have the success you hoped for, at least you spent your life doing what you wanted.”


Robin was born in Pensacola, where his dad was stationed in the Navy, and they moved to San Diego when he was six. When he was eight, his mom gave him a plastic toy ukulele. They were living then in Serra Mesa. His dad played a bit of depression-era folk songs and his parents took him to experience folk music in coffeehouses here in the 1960s. “I liked the sound of the blues before I understood it was a style of music,” he said. His life is measured more by soulful happiness, or as Robin described, “I’m keeping excitement down to a dull roar.” It’s like a low-key rhythm, playing blues and jazz, while living an upbeat life.



Name: Robin Henkel
Profession: Musician
Community: Scripps Ranch since 1989
Favorite Genre: Country Blues