The first song the Allman Brothers Band ever played, and the last (at the Beacon Theater, October 28, 2014) was Muddy Waters “Trouble No More” so it is fitting that the first cover song to be released from Gregg Allman’s final album (“Southern Blood”) is also a Muddy Waters tune: “I Live The Life I Love (I Love The Life I Live).”
On a freezing cold December 1, 1956, on the Near South Side of Chicago, McKinley Morganfield (better known as Muddy Waters) entered the modest two story building at 2120 South Michigan Avenue that was the new home of Chess Records. With Muddy was producer, songwriter, and bassist Willie Dixon, who had already composed 10 songs for Muddy, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” (covered by the Allman Brothers Band on “Idlewild South” and “Live at Ludlow Garage – 1970.”) Feeling that he had not been compensated fairly by the Chess brothers, Willie had left Chess Records earlier in 1956 for Cobra Records, but still returned for occasional sessions. This would be his last session for Chess until he returned in 1960.
Joining Muddy and Willie (on bass) were groundbreaking blues harmonica player Little Walter, guitar player Hubert Sumlin (sideman in Howlin’ Wolf’s band, number 43 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and featured in the recently released film “Sidemen: Long Road to Glory“), guitarist Pat Hare (who also played with Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker and others), Muddy’s longtime piano player (and solo artist as well) Otis Spann, and jazz/blues drummer Francis Clay (who played regularly for Muddy and would go on to play behind John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, and more.)
Willie usually composed and wrote down the lyrics to his songs in advance, and worked out the music and arrangements live in the studio with the band. The band soon settled into a slow medium tempo, and laid down the (mostly) 8 bar blues “I Live The Life I Love (I Love The Life I Live)” in one take, before moving on to record “Rock Me,” “Look What You’ve Done,” and “Got My Mojo Working.”
Muddy and the band would not record again until May or June of 1957, when they recorded “Evil” which would become the B-side of “I Live The Life I Love.” The single was released as Chess 1680 in December of that year, in both the 10″ 78rpm format and on the newer 7″ 45rpm style disk. Today you can find it on youtube.
Muddy recorded “Live the Life I Love” again in 1969 on the “Fathers and Sons” album, and it has been covered by many artists, including Mose Allison, John Hammond, Georgie Fame, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin with Keith Richards, and the Steve Miller Band. The Allman Brothers Band, however, has never performed “Live the Life I Love.”
On March 7, 2016, the Gregg Allman Band arrived at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. While his previous studio album (“Low Country Blues”) was recorded with session musicians, this time Gregg decided to use his road band. The band, which backed Gregg on 2015’s “Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA” (well worth a listen) was led by longtime lead guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard, with Peter Levin on keys, Allman Brothers Band percussionist Marc Quinones, Jay Collins and Art Edmaiston on sax, trumpeter Marc Franklin, drummer Steve Potts, and Ron Johnson on bass. The album was produced by Don Was and the band was augmented with guests from Muscle Shoals including Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section legends Spooner Oldham on keys and David Hood on bass, and Fame Studios founder Rick Hall on keyboards.
Over the next nine days, Gregg and the band laid down the tracks for “Southern Blood,” which would become his final studio album, including his cover of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” (recorded by the Gregg Allman Band without any guests.)
Gregg and the band played “I love the Life I Live” eleven times live, debuting the song a few weeks after leaving Muscle Shoals, on April 6, 2016, at The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, Charleston, West Virginia. That performance of “I love the Life I Live” is included as a bonus track on some versions the new album. Gregg’s final performance of “I love the Life I Live” was in an abbreviated (6 song) acoustic set with just Gregg and guitarist Scott Sharrard at the 2016 Laid Back Festival, September 25, 2016 at Red Rocks in Colorado. He would perform live only four more times.
“Southern Blood” is set to be released on September 8.