Roman Street is the creation of two brothers, Noah and Joshua Thompson, who grew up on the Eastern Shore. Noah, now 39, picked up the guitar at the age of 15. He started taking classical guitar lessons in Mobile and auditioned for a scholarship to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee after graduating from Daphne High School.
“It was a partial scholarship and I supplemented my education expenses by waiting tables while in school. I had a loop station and made more money playing music than I did waiting tables. Also, Noah says by the time he was a senior, he was burned out playing the music Lee University required him to perform while he helped recruit other students. “I was forced to play stuff I didn’t want to play.”
As a Biological Sciences major, Noah was waitlisted for twelve months while waiting for entry into medical school. Joshua, four years younger, started playing in the 8th grade. ”By the time I was a senior, Joshua had become a pretty good guitar player himself,” says Noah. The two started playing music together.
They recorded a ten-song demo and began playing gigs around Fairhope. “We really didn’t know what the audience reaction would be to the music,” says Joshua. “The response we got was so encouraging, and people were generous with their tips, which helped tremendously. Plus, we were getting food we couldn’t otherwise afford!”
It’s worth noting that Noah and Joshua’s mom, Patty Thompson, is the band’s manager. Patty has a long history in the music industry, and we first became acquainted when she was the Manager of Mobile’s Saenger Theater, where Linda served as Director of Development.
In March 2006, during Joshua’s spring break, the brothers went to Europe to play in Switzerland and Germany. They were motivated to create an album and sell CDs, which they sold to support themselves. Returning home, they spent half their weekends playing between Mobile and Pensacola, hoping to turn their music into a career.
Their first album was Live on Mobile Bay, which included photos shot from the deck at Ed’s Shed on the Causeway, and an interior photo shot from the wall of what was a dentist's office next to Camellia Cafe in Fairhope.
In our conversation, they both paid tribute to the late Catt Sirten from 92 ZEW, who was a big supporter of young musicians. “Catt knew a lot about music. We were friends and he helped us tremendously along the way. As we developed our Latin Jazz genre, he gave us lots of exposure. Broadcasting is becoming more and more difficult to showcase these days, and he was always there for us. He will be greatly missed.”
Noah and Joshua’s dad played jazz, so they were exposed at an early age. In 2001, Patty arranged for a Latin Jazz duo from Europe, Tonic Strings, to come to the States to play Art Walk, Pirates Cove, and other local venues. Noah and Joshua ended up playing with Tonic Strings at The Saenger Theater in Mobile and were a big hit. They learned a lot from Tonic Strings (Nic Neiderman and Toni Donadio) and formed a strong relationship with the group.
They went to Europe several times to play with Tonic Strings and to perfect their sound. “It was a tremendous experience, playing and learning from them. They are excellent guitarists, and we remain close today. They helped us so much as we were getting started.” The name Roman Street comes from the street where Tonic Strings lived in Baden, Switzerland.
Today, Roman Street plays all over the United States including the West Coast, and Midwest, but usually performs within a 500-mile footprint from Fairhope. “Every month or so we go out of town for a 4-day weekend gig, but we like drivable distances these days.” They were recently in Seattle and then Wisconsin playing events.
Latin Jazz is a unique sound and “this kind of music doesn’t exist around here,” says Joshua. “We’ve been doing this for 17 years now, and we strive to create a balance that sustains our music,” says Noah. “Tonic Strings were great role models and showed us how to have a sustainable music career economically. So far it’s working for us.”
They go on to say that their sound is not mainstream, and never will be. They have recorded 8 albums to date, all instrumental. “We write all our own music,” says Noah. “We try to compose pleasing music that will have a broad appeal. We have a pretty large portfolio of music, and both of us have different ideas about what we do.” Here is Windjammer.
Roman Street sometimes brings in other musicians, depending on the event and venue. This allows them to mix it up a bit, whether it’s a duo, a trio, or a quartet. “We have five iterations of sound all with distinctive flavors and formats. This makes it fun!” They are booked throughout the Scenic 98 Coastal area through the end of the year, culminating with their annual Christmas Show at the Saenger Theater in Mobile on December 8.
Joshua says they customize what they do to fit the audience. “We get to play so many different types of gigs; birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, seated dinners, nonprofits, and festivals. I think that is because our music is very malleable and suits many occasions.” They played Jazz Fest in 2016 and spent a week in Nashville recording in 2010.
“We used to spend so much more time and money recording.” Streaming has impacted the ability to make money from recorded music. “We get thousands of streams a week and over a million streams per year, but the payout is less,” says Noah. “Yet we are still receiving positive revenue from royalties.”
What do you do in your spare time after being a full-time musician for 20 years? Noah is married with a six-year-old son and invests in rental property and enjoys securities investing on the side. Joshua is single, and a fitness trainer.
“This area has a big draw and a lot of our friends have returned home. With all the growth, it does feel different, but in a net-positive way”, says Noah. “I like the diversity we have now, the natural beauty and the culture.” Joshua added, “I love the vibe, the spirit, and the attitude. It’s relatively affordable, and all my European friends love visiting the area. We have roots here, and we love the amenities!”
Thanks, Patty, for setting up this delightful interview. We look forward to listening to more Roman Street sounds very soon!