Hilton Valentine, The Animals’ Founding Guitarist, Dies At 77

Valentine’s legendary guitar intro to the band’s landmark recording of ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ is familiar to millions of guitarists the world over.

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Hilton Valentine (center, front row, with guitar). Photo: Val Wilmer/Redferns

Hilton Valentine, original guitarist for The Animals who featured on iconic hits like “The House of the Rising Sun,” died Friday, January 29, at the age of 77.

ABKCO Music, the band’s label, confirmed Valentine’s death Friday. “Our deepest sympathies go out to [Hilton Valentine]’s family and friends on his passing this morning, at the age of 77,” the label wrote. “A founding member and original guitarist of The Animals, Valentine was a pioneering guitar player influencing the sound of rock and roll for decades to come.” At the time of writing, no cause of death has been revealed.

Animals singer Eric Burdon wrote on social media Friday, “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.”

Valentine was born in North Shields, Northumberland, on May 21, 1943, and as a teenager formed the skiffle band the Heppers, who evolved into the rock‘n’roll outfit the Heppers. He was the founding guitarist of The Animals, which he formed in 1963 alongside Burdon, bassist Chas Chandler, organist Alan Price and drummer John Steel. A British Invasion band that specialized in R&B covers, The Animals scored a No.1 single on both sides of the Atlantic in the summer of 1964 with their hit “The House of the Rising Sun.”

An unforgettable intro

Their treatment of the song, regarded as one of the inspirations for Bob Dylan going electric in 1965, has entered the annals of rock history, with the intro familiar over the decades to millions of budding guitarists around the world. Dylan had recorded the song on his debut album in 1962. The critic Colin Larkin summed up the dramatic impact of “The House Of The Rising Sun” in his Virgin Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, writing that the combination of Hilton Valentine’s “now legendary but simplistic guitar introduction,” Price’s organ playing and Burdon’s “bloodcurdling vocal” had helped give the band musical “immortality.”

In a span of barely two years, the Animals’ original lineup released a string of rock classics like “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and “It’s My Life.”

“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,” Burdon told Guitar International (via ABKCO). “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.”

Valentine by Price

In a lighthearted piece in Rave magazine in August 1964, in which Price described his fellow Animals, he said of Valentine: “He’s lean, and looks a bit frail. Likes laughing. When he does, his body shakes. Could do with a healthy sun tan. On stage, he gets excited when he feels we’re flying. Stamps his foot heavily on the floor. Bends his head over his guitar and sways like he’s in a trance. The girls love it. I honestly don’t think he hears them though.”

After the Animals’ original lineup dissolved in 1966, Valentine took part in reunions in 1975 and 1983, as well as leading his own factions of “The Animals” until 2001. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the rest of the original Animals in 1994.

“In recent years, Hilton Valentine who lived in Connecticut, returned to skiffle music and formed the band Skiffledog that toured in the US and UK, and released 2 albums,” ABKCO wrote.

“He could also be found on stage with the great garage bands, The Woggles and The Headless Horsemen, whom he befriended. In 2011 he recorded a holiday album with Big Boy Pete called Merry Skifflemas! referred to on the package as a ‘festive blend of traditional oldies and original newbies.’ He joined Eric Burdon on tour in 2007-08, with whom he remained close.”

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