Hilton Valentine, Founding Guitarist for the Animals, Dies at 77

Hilton Valentine, the original guitarist for the Animals who played the opening riff on their hit song “House of the Rising Sun,” died on Jan. 29. He was 77.

The Animals’ label, ABKCO Music, announced Valentine’s death on their Twitter account. “Our deepest sympathies go out to @HiltonValentine’s family and friends on his passing this morning, at the age of 77,” the statement reads. “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 in Northumberland, England on May 21, 1943, Valentine received his first guitar when he was 13 and subsequently formed his first band, the Heppers. They then evolved into the Wildcats, focusing more on a rock and roll sound rather than the 1950s skiffle craze. The Wildcats grew popular playing dance halls and clubs around town, leading the Animals’ original bassist Chas Chandler to recruit Valentine in 1963 for his new group. Valentine joined Chandler, singer Eric Burdon and drummer John Steel, and the Animals were born.

Valentine can be heard on hits such as “Baby Let Me Take You Home,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “It’s My Life” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.” But Valentine is best known for the opening riff to their 1964 No. 1 hit, “House of the Rising Sun.” The Animals’ original lineup broke up in 1966.

Valentine released a solo album in 1969 titled “All In Your Head,” and reunited with the Animals several times throughout the years. In 1994, Valentine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame in 2001.

Most recently, Valentine returned to his first love of skiffle music, forming the band Skiffledog and releasing two albums. In addition to touring with Skiffledog, Valentine played with the Woggles and the Headless Horsemen and joined former bandmate Burdon on tour in 2007 and 2008.

Burdon paid tribute to Valentine on Instagram, writing: “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.”

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