Hilton Valentine, the original guitarist for The Animals, has died. The U.K.-born musician was 77.
Valentine’s death was announced via the band’s record label ABKCO on Friday, though no cause of death was listed. The New York record label founded by Allen Klein in 1961 wrote, “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.”
Born Hilton Stewart Paterson Valentine in North Shields, Northumberland, England on May 21st, 1943, Valentine’s musical career began with a skiffle group known as The Heppers he formed in high school. As the skiffle craze eventually gave way to early rock n’ roll, so too changed the style of the Heppers who changed their name to The Wildcats in 1959. The band enjoyed local success at dance halls, church events, and other area gigs and even recorded a 10″ LP called Sounds of the Wild Cats.
It was in 1963, however, that Valentine joined up with singer Eric Burdon, keyboardist Alan Price, bassist Chas Chandler, and drummer John Steel to form The Animals. Though Burdon’s vocals and Price’s organs came to become the focal points of The Animals, Valentine is credited with the opening arpeggio introduction that begins the band’s 1964 seminal hit, “The House of the Rising Sun”, and inspired countless beginner guitarists. The Animals would go on to record several more hits, including “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, and others, but none with the lasting power of “The House of the Rising Sun”.
The Animals’ original lineup disbanded in 1966, at which point Valentine moved to California to mount an ultimately-unsuccessful solo career. After that, Valentine joined up with later incarnations of The Animals for several reunions. The original lineup of The Animals was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Valentine later moved to Connecticut and restarted his career with the launch of his band Skiffledog.
Hilton Valentine is survived by his wife Germaine and their daughter Samantha Valentine Simmons.