Original Animals Guitarist, Hilton Valentine, Dies at 77

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This ad for “The House of the Rising Sun” appeared in the July 25, 1964, issue of Record World in the U.S.

Hilton Valentine, the original guitarist for the Animals, whose distinctive intro on the 1964 chart-topping single “The House of the Rising Sun” was a key part of the British Invasion, died January 29, 2021. His death at age 77 was announced by his wife, Germaine. Neither the cause of death nor the location was revealed, though he had lived in the town of Wallingford, Conn., for several decades.

Valentine was born Hilton Stewart Paterson Valentine on May 21, 1943, in what was then Northumberland, England. As with many young men in 1950s Britain, the skiffle craze hit him hard and his mother bought him his first guitar in 1956 at the age of 13. He immediately taught himself from a book called Teach Yourself a Thousand Chords and at around the time he was orphaned at age 16, formed his own skiffle band called the Heppers, playing locally in halls and at outdoor venues.

The Heppers eventually evolved into a rock and roll band, the Wildcats, with Valentine’s best friend, Tappy Wright, on rhythm guitar. When the group proved to be popular, it took the next step and recorded an acetate LP titled Sounds of the Wild Cats [sic], which is thought to be the first and only pre-Animals music recorded by any of the original lineup.

Valentine was known for ripping off his shirt and getting down on the ground while wailing away on his guitar. In 1963, bass guitarist Chas Chandler heard about a wild guitar player from the Wildcats. He liked what he heard and he, keyboardist Alan Price, and singer Eric Burdon asked Valentine to join the new band they were forming. Drummer John Steel joined shortly thereafter and the five-member band soon changed its name to The Animals.

Once the Animals got into the studio, the guitar took a back seat to Price’s hook-laden keyboards. They were paired with producer Mickie Most for their 1964 self-titled debut. The group began performing a cover of the standard “The House of the Rising Sun,” with an arrangement attributed to Price. Although Most was initially reluctant to record it, he relented. The song’s intro features Valentine’s well known A minor chord arpeggio before Burdon’s growling vocal and Price’s swirling organ kick in. The recording was a smash, topping the U.K. chart before arriving in the U.S. as part of the British Invasion. It conquered America as well, reaching #1.

Related: The song’s publishing rights sparked some controversy

Within the next year, the group followed it with a #8 U.K. single, “I’m Crying,” as well as four others that reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Bring it on Home to Me,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life.”

The Animals proved to be a popular concert attraction, with Valentine’s pal and former bandmate, Tappy Wright, as their road manager.

Watch them perform “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” in 1965

Hilton played with the Animals until their breakup in September 1966. (At that point, Burdon continued with a new lineup billed as Eric Burdon and the Animals.) In 1970 Valentine recorded a solo album of what some people categorize as psychedelicized folk music, titled All In Your Head.

Hilton Valentine (Photo: Germaine Valentine; used with permission)

Valentine reunited with the original lineup of the Animals several times since their split. The first occasion was for a benefit concert in Newcastle in 1968. In 1977, they recorded the Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted LP. And in 1983, they recorded a studio LP, Ark, which was followed by a world tour and subsequent greatest hits Live album, also known as Rip It To Shreds.

In 1994, Valentine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Animals. Later that year, he started playing Animals music again and toured until 2001. In 2001, he was inducted into Hollywood’s Walk of Fame along with the other Animals and had a two-night reunion concert at the El Rey Theatre.

Recently Burdon, speaking to Guitar International, commented on the role Valentine played in bringing the Animals hard-edged sound to the fore. “It really was Hilton who made the early Animals a rock band because I don’t think the element of rock was in the band until we found him. In those days, Hilton wasn’t just playing rock ‘n’ roll, he looked rock ‘n’ roll. Here was a guy with the greased mop of hair combed back, cheap leather jacket, winkle picker shoes, black jeans and a smile on his face playing through an echoplex, which was a secret weapon back then.”

Upon hearing the news of Valentine’s passing, Burdon wrote, “The opening opus of Rising Sun will never sound the same!… You didn’t just play it, you lived it! Heartbroken by the sudden news of Hilton’s passing. We had great times together, Geordie lad. From the North Shields to the entire world…Rock In Peace.”

Watch Valentine perform the Animals’ #1 single

Since 2004, Valentine had been concentrating on acoustic material, releasing several albums under the name Skiffledog. He also toured with original Animals singer Eric Burdon from 2007-2008.

Chandler died in 1996 at age 57.

In the announcement of Valentine’s passing via Abkco Records, the label noted, “We have been privileged to serve as stewards of The Animals catalog and his passing is felt in a truly profound way by the entire Abkco family.”

Valentine’s family has organized fundraisers for, appropriately, animals in need, via the ASPCA and RSPCA.

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Greg Brodsky
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  1. dennisl59
    #2 dennisl59 29 January, 2021, 23:06

    One of the first ‘real’ chord progressions I ever learned on guitar was that song on my Gibson 330…RIP Hilton

    Reply this comment
  2. George
    #3 George 30 January, 2021, 00:59

    Great guitarist, RIP. Anyone who played guitar at that time wanted to do it just like he did. One of my favorite groups.

    Reply this comment
  3. Anthony
    #4 Anthony 30 January, 2021, 01:40

    Bummer. . Hilton you Rock!!

    Reply this comment
  4. Da Mick
    #5 Da Mick 30 January, 2021, 08:12

    If creating a song, style, or even riff that influences, shapes or forms rock music forever was a basic criterion for entry into the Rock Hall (which, sadly it’s not), the guitar part to House of The Rising Sun should have given Mr. Valentine entry on that basis alone. When you create a part that literally every aspiring young guitar player seeks to learn, you’ve really accomplished something in popular music.

    Reply this comment
    • Allets
      Allets 30 January, 2021, 16:39

      Imagine three black 13 year olds in Detroit, Michigan walking to class in an all Black Junior High School singing “Oh Lord please don’t let me be misunderstood.” That was us! RIP In guitar Heaven.

      Reply this comment
  5. Alfredo
    #6 Alfredo 30 January, 2021, 09:30

    Great guitar player may he rest in peace and he’ll be missed.

    Reply this comment
  6. Lance Barbarino
    #7 Lance Barbarino 30 January, 2021, 20:01

    Yep that Am progression was the first one I learned. Bob D. even recorded his version on his first album.

    Reply this comment
  7. John
    #8 John 30 January, 2021, 20:02

    The Animals are simply one of the greatest bands of all time… Hilton was there, he served, and we’re all the better for the incredibly inspired and gutsy music he helped make.

    Reply this comment

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