Reagan blowing up a storm on harmonica

RONALD REAGAN learning to play the harmonica? There is a persistent rumour that the 83-year-old former US president is spending his retirement on the ranch in California blowing up a ballad or two, writes Peter Pringle.

Some say it was Bill Clinton's saxophone playing that got him going, others that he read Presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge and Eisenhower played the harmonica so he felt he ought to.

Bemused friends claim a tutor visits twice a week and there have been suggestions that among the tunes the former actor has been working on are 'Git Along Little Doggie' and 'Streets of Laredo'.

While acknowledging he can play a bit, Mr Reagan has been hotly denying the rumours about instruction. CBS TV asked if they could film one of the lessons, but he said no because he had not got a tutor. When the New York Times rang he sent them a fax by return, in his own handwriting: 'Unfortunately I'm not taking lessons and probably should be. I've always liked the harmonica, but can barely play a tune. My repertoire is limited to 'Red River Valley', and I play for my own self-amusement exclusively - usually when I don't have my hearing aids in. Thank you for thinking of me anyway. Have a blessed Easter. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.'

Whatever the truth, a presidential band of current and former occupants of the White House is clearly a possibility.

You can hear Mr Reagan, as band leader, introducing them: 'And a hand please for 'Tricky Dicky' Nixon on drums, 'Pratfall' Ford on bass, 'Peanuts' Carter on trumpet and 'Oilcan' Bush on penny whistle.'