IF the Vice Presidential debate turned into a talent contest, Tim Kaine would have to whip out a harmonica. The Virginia senator has found his ability to play the mouth organ almost as important to his career as his fluency in Spanish. To him, it’s more than just a trivial footnote.
Here’s a look at Kaine’s harmonica playing and why he thinks it’s so important.
1. Kaine Learned How to Play the Harmonica When He Was in Seventh Grade
While you might think that learning to play the harmonica is just a habit he picked up for political motives, that’s not the case. The New York Times notes that he picked it up while he was in seventh grade and inspired by another student who could play. Kaine was born in Minnesota, but grew up in the Kansas City area.
One summer, he decided to dedicate himself to learning how to play the instrument.
“The elementary school I attended was about five blocks from my house,” Kaine told the Times. “So then I would walk up to the playground of this elementary school after dinner, and I would sit on the swings or walk around the playground playing the harmonica until I learned how to play it.”
As Time Magazine notes, Kaine is also a student of the blues and bluegrass. His favorite musicians include Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson and Toots Thielemans.
2. When Kaine Ran for Senate, His Campaign Organized a Contest to Give Away a Harmonica Lesson With Him
In 2012, when Kaine was running for U.S. Senate, his campaign organized a “Harmonica With Tim” contest, Bloomberg noted at the time. One lucky winner got a private harmonica lesson with Kaine.
His harmonica skills came in handy throughout his time in Virginia politics. He landed in the state in 1988 when he began teaching at the University of Richmond School of Law and was first elected to the Richmond city council in 1994. He became Mayor of Richmond in 1998 and became Governor of Virginia in 2006.
In a 2015 interview with The Washington Post, Kaine jokingly said that every politician should learn how to play an instrument.
“I think playing multiple instruments should be a requirement,” he said. “No, the way I look at it is, in politics you’ve got to have a fallback in our line of work because your career can be over in an instant. Not that I would make much money playing a harmonica.”
3. Kaine Has Performed With Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band & the Band No Speed Limit
Kaine is not shy about jumping up on stage and performing with any musician, no matter how talented they are. It gives him an opportunity to prove that he’s serious about playing harmonica. In 2009, he joined Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley for a performance of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
4. Kaine Carries 6 Harmonicas Wherever He Goes
While in Asheville, North Carolina in August, Kaine told CNN that he carries “six harmonicas in my briefcase at all times.” That way, he can be prepared for whatever key harmonica he needs. During that campaign stop, he performed “Wagon Wheel” and “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains.” with Nikki Talley and Jason Sharp.
“That felt great. Nothing makes me more nervous than doing that. But it’s good to get our of your comfort zone. Asheville is a pretty good place, huh?” Kaine said after the performance.
5. He Played Harmonica for Steve Bassett on the Song ‘Election Day’
Kaine is also a recording artist, although one with just a single credit. He played harmonica on “Election Day,” a song musician Steve Bassett featured on his album Blowin’ The Dust Off.
“He did great,” Bassett told Style Weekly after the song was recorded. “He played very tastefully, played just what the song required.”
The track was recorded in the early morning in the basement of the Virginia Governor’s Mansion with Bassett, Kaine and Kaine’s son Woody. “Three kids in the basement, just jammin’ on some music,” Bassett said.