Larry Cox shares stories of survival. As a young man, he worked work as a sharecropper with his parents in West Tennessee and ultimately sought new beginnings in Chicago. It was there his love for the harmonica led him to the South Side blues scene where he rubbed shoulders with greats including Muddy Waters. Now, he has traded the Windy City for Music City.  In this podcast, he shares his inspiring story of how perseverance and life skills – from swimming to scouting and a harmonica – have been lifesavers.

What brought you from the Windy City to Music City?

I had a health problem and was in the Windy City alone. … I was talking to my brother [by phone] one morning and he didn’t like the way I was sounding. He called my son down here in Nashville and told him he better get up to the Windy City and see about me.

He came up and sure enough, I went out unconscious and everything and they put me in the hospital [due to low blood sugar and diabetes]. … The next time I came to my right mind, I was in a nursing home way on the other side of Chicago. … I’ve been here in Nashville with him and his family ever since. They are watching over me. … So, that’s what brought me down here.

What does it feel like to be almost 87?

It seems like I’m being renewed right now. I am so happy to be here. When I wake up every morning, it’s a blessing and that’s when I come out here to the center [FiftyForward Donelson Station]. It’s just like family out here. I’m seeing people that I see every day … I feel like I’m coming to a family to work out and play pool and enjoy myself …

In speaking about his roots and family, Larry explains the connections his father had to the blues music scene as a guitar player and how that was ultimately put on the sidelines due to his father’s commitment to making a living as a sharecropper on a farm near Humboldt, Tennessee and raising a family.

Did moving to Chicago motivate you to pursue the blues and your love for harmonica playing?

Yeah, because I wasn’t listening to any blues or music or nothing like that before I came to Chicago. I started listening to music ’cause I was in that neighborhood where the music was. Where all the big-time blues players were there, Sonny Boy Williamson and his band, Muddy Waters band and all that. That’s how I got into music because I would go down there and sit around the nightclub at night and listen to them.

Larry shares a story about a lounge owner named Theresa, who heard him play and encouraged him to sit in with other acts at her club (the famed Theresa’s on Chicago’s South Side). In this podcast, we are then treated to some of Larry’s original and improvisational blues creations.

In addition, he reminisces the important connections he made like meeting performers including Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and performing at 12th and Racine, Mount Sinai Hospital, and his role in the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project. The 2005 effort was to showcase the vibrant Chicago blues harmonica scene – a feat that brought him great joy and visibility.

What is one piece of advice a parent or older adult might have shared with you years ago – that at the time you thought – this is silly, but now it rings true in your everyday life?  They said, “Do unto others as you would love them to do unto you.” The golden rules, you know, I was taught that. And don’t misuse anyone, you know, if you do hurt someone’s feelings, then you go back and apologize and ask for forgiveness. … So, if you do something wrong, make a mistake, ask for forgiveness, and you can get yourself back on the right track.

How do you squeeze the day? The first thing I do is … I thank the Lord for waking me up …  The next thing I do, I reach for my harmonica and put it in my pocket. This harmonica has really saved me — all my life.

From the Scouting skills – he used to save the lives of two young boys who were drowning — to his first job at a billiards/pool club, we learn how valuable experiences have shaped the life of this octogenarian. We are also treated, in the podcast, to some original music because playing the blues brings Larry Cox great joy, and his best friend – his trusty harmonica – is always close at hand.

This Squeeze the Day is brought to you by the All of Us Research Program from the National Institutes of Health. Learn how you can help change the future of health by participating in the program.
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