Hilton Valentine, original guitarist for the Animals who featured on songs like “The House of the Rising Sun,” died Friday at the age of 77.
ABKCO Music, the band’s label, confirmed Valentine’s death Friday. “Our deepest sympathies go out to [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.” No cause of death was 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 the founding guitarist of the Animals, which he formed in 1963 alongside Burton, bassist Chas Chandler, organist Alan Price and drummer John Steel. A British Invasion band that specialized in R&B covers, the Animals scored a Number One single on both sides of the Atlantic in the summer of 1964 with their hit “The House of the Rising Sun,” featuring Valentine’s iconic intro:
In a span of two years, the Animals’ original lineup released a string of rock classics like “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (Number 322 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), “We Gotta Get Out of the Place” (Number 235) 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.”
After the Animals’ original lineup dissolved in 1966, Valentine took part in reunions in 1975 and 1983, as well as led his own factions of “the Animals” until 2001. Valentine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the rest of the original Animals in 1994.
“In recent years, 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.”