Hilton Valentine, the original guitarist for the British Invasion group The Animals, died on Friday according to reports. His opening lick for their 1964 cover of the traditional folk song “The House of the Rising Sun” is one of the most recognizable in recorded music. He was 77 years old.
Valentine co-founded The Animals in 1963 in Newcastle, England, alongside singer Eric Burdon, whose dynamic range and emotive howls brought the band quick recognition. Organist Alan Price was also a key factor in the group’s distinctive sound. (Drummer John Steel and bassist Chas Chandler rounded out the unit.) Their repertoire, similar to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones at the time, was heavily influenced by American rhythm & blues, and they covered songs by John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles. Their first international smash, however, has more murky origins.
“The House of the Rising Sun,” a tale of a life gone wrong in New Orleans, goes back to at least 1933 (and is probably much older), but it became better known during the Greenwich Village folk revivalism scene. Joan Baez recorded it in the early 1960s, as did Nina Simone on her live album Nina at the Village Gate. It appears on Bob Dylan‘s first album, and he has credited that arrangement to Dave Van Ronk, who was a mentor to him and other young folkies at the time. This version, though with the gender switched, formed the spine of how The Animals played it, but with Price’s keyboard bed and Valentine’s inimitable snaking guitar lick.
Other early hits by The Animals include oldies radio staples “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and “It’s My Life.” Their 1966 album Animalization featured a recording of “Inside – Looking Out” that proved influential with the proto-psychedelic garage rock scene back in the United States.
Valentine left the group in 1966 (at which point they became Eric Burdon and the Animals), then Burdon recorded with the band War, but the original lineup returned in 1975. A reunion album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted was released. While not a financial success, the collection of songs by writers like Doc Pomus, Leiber and Stoller, Jimmy Reed, and Bob Dylan makes for a solid entry in Animals canon.
The 1983 collection Ark, however, no doubt trying to follow fellow British Invasion act The Kinks’s successful foray into New Wave, was something of a misfire.
Valentine recorded solo work throughout the years, eventually settling in Connecticut and forming a group called Skiffledog. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. His Twitter account showed he took his place in rock history both seriously and with a pinch of humor, appending “House of the Rising Sun”‘s opening notes (Am/C/D/F/Am/E/Am) to his official handle.
On Instagram, Eric Burdon announced he was heartbroken, and said of Valentine “you didn’t just play it, you lived it!
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