Waco street drummer connects with students through music

Richard A. Thompson IV began his Waco street drumming gigs outside of Fuzzy's Taco Shop. Photo courtesy of Richard A. Thompson IV

By Kalena Reynolds | Staff Writer

Musician and educator Richard A. Thompson IV made the move from Indianapolis to Waco in 2010 to pursue a relationship with his now-wife and dig deeper into his faith. Before long, Waco became his muse for music, creativity and spirituality.

Thompson’s father was a drummer who grew up in Washington, D.C., surrounded and inspired by go-go music and eventually playing in the band Experience Unlimited — also known as E.U. and famous for the song “Da’ Butt.” When Thompson was 5 years old, his father began teaching him to play the drums and laying the foundation of music while playing in church.

“He started me out by sitting on his lap and playing, and so at the age of 5 is when I started playing drums, and then he just kind of let me go after that,” Thompson said. “When I really started taking myself seriously with playing, I would say I was maybe 18 or 19, which is kind of late in the game.”

Like many musicians, Thompson said he experienced the feeling of imposter syndrome in his craft. Through the process of questioning himself and his abilities, Thompson found that music was imperative to his life and that playing was almost a spiritual experience.

Because of the connection he felt with music, Thompson said he decided he wanted to mentor others and utilize music as his vessel of communication.

“I was working at Carver Middle School, and all the students knew me as Mr. T or Uncle T, just because I created that relationship with them,” Thompson said. “There was a talent show that was happening, and one of the faculty members asked me to play the drums because somebody else had told them that I played. And so I was like, ‘Sure,’ and I played for all the kids in the auditorium, and they went crazy.”

After he saw the students’ reactions, Thompson said he had a spark of inspiration for how he could intertwine mentorship and music to help his students outside of school — and it started at the corner of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

“They got the train track right there that runs through the sidewalk, and I was just like, ‘Man, that will be a dope spot just to set a drum set up and play,’” Thompson said.

Because of the area’s similarities to New Orleans, Thompson said he wanted to do a street drumming show at the corner of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to inspire his students outside of school.

“One of my students who was near and dear to my heart kept getting in trouble, and I had no way to get in contact with him outside of school,” Thompson said. “What I decided to do is, I went by one last time and went in to talk to the manager and asked, ‘Is it possible [that] I can do a street show here?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’”

This was the beginning of Thompson’s famous Waco street drumming gigs, which have led him to play all around Waco and become a musical inspiration to others.

“That’s how ‘Waco Street Drummer’ was born — just trying to keep the kid out of trouble,” Thompson said. “And I saw that me playing kind of moved him, and so I just tried to use my gift to influence him to make better choices.”

Thompson now has a regular event at THRST Coffee Shop called “First Friday,” during which he curates music and multiple other shows around Waco. He also gives drum lessons to kids and adults.

“I love how he was able to find a way to use what he loved to help the people he cared about and empower his community,” Coppell sophomore Michael Nance said. “I think what he is doing is really great for our community.”