Hilton Valentine, founding member of The Animals and guitarist on one of the most iconic intros in music history, has died aged 77.
His death was confirmed by the band’s label ABKCO in a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday night: “Our deepest sympathies go out to Hilton Valentine’s family and friends on his passing this morning, at the age of 77.”
“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.”
Our deepest sympathies go out to @HiltonValentine's family and friends on his passing this morning, at the age of 77.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. pic.twitter.com/gSUyVN0WWSJanuary 29, 2021
Born in North Shields, UK, Valentine founded the Animals in Newcastle in 1963, alongside singer Eric Burdon, bassist Chas Chandler, organist Alan Price and drummer John Steel.
One year later, the group landed their biggest hit, a cover of blues standard The House of the Rising Sun, opened by Valentine’s arpeggiated guitar riff – it went on to become one of the most iconic intros in music history and essential learning for every guitarist who followed.
“I was coming up with my arpeggio bit and Alan Price said to me, ‘Can you play something different because that is so corny?’” Valentine – who played a Gretsch Tennessean through a Selmer Selectortone on the track – told Guitar International in 2010.
“So I told him, ‘You play your damn keyboard and I’ll play me guitar!’ Then, after a few rehearsals, he started playing my riff and we recorded it.”
The band followed The House of the Rising Sun with a number of hits, including reworkings of blues classics Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, before the group disbanded a few years later.
Valentine moved to the US shortly after, recording a solo album, All in Your Head, in 1969. But it wasn’t until he reconnected with his love of skiffle that a follow-up was released in 2004, It’s Folk ‘N’ Skiffle, Mate!. Two other skiffle releases followed in 2011 and 2012.
In 1994, Valentine and his fellow Animals Eric Burdon, Chas Chandler, Alan Price and John Steel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Of their legacy, Valentine told Guitar International, “I do think that we were among those responsible for turning on white America to the blues music that was already right in their own backyard, they just didn’t know it.”
A cause of death has yet to be announced.