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The Animals guitarist and founding member Hilton Valentine dead at 77

Hilton Valentine onstage in 1964
(Image credit: Associated Reporters / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Hilton Valentine, original guitarist and founding member of The Animals, has died at the age of 77. 

The news was confirmed by record label ABKCO, who said, "We, along with all of the music world, mourn the loss today of Hilton Valentine a founding member of The Animals. Valentine was a pioneering guitar player influencing the sound of rock and roll for decades to come. His death was revealed by his wife, Germaine Valentine."

Valentine was born in North Shields, Northumberland, in 1943, and, like many musicians of his generation, was influenced by the booming craze for skiffle music. 

"What drew me to the guitar was seeing Lonnie Donegan doing Rock Island Line on television, on a show called the The Six Five Special," Valentine told Modern Guitars in 2006. "I wanted to play guitar after seeing that, and of course, after hearing Chuck Berry and seeing him do the duck walk."

In 1963 he was recruited to join The Animals alongside Chas Chandler, Alan Price and John Steel. He went on to play on classics like 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, and on the band's trans-Atlantic number one cover of the traditional folk song The House of the Rising Sun

While the song helped launch the band towards stardom, it also typified the behind-the-scenes chaos that would lead to their eventual break-up. 

"I was coming up with my arpeggio bit [the famous Am-C-D-F chord sequence] and Alan Price said to me, 'Can you play something different because that is so corny?'", Valentine 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.

"Our manager, Mike Jeffrey, came down and said that since the song was in the public domain, we needed to credit an arranger. He said that we couldn’t put all of our names on the record because it wouldn’t fit, so he just put Alan’s name on it saying it’s understood that the royalties will be shared among everyone.

"We were all so gullible then we just believed that we would get our share. But we never put anything in writing and to this day, only Pricey has been getting royalties on it."

By 1966 the band's business affairs "were a total shambles" according to Chandler, and they broke up. Valentine moved to the US, where he recorded a solo album, All In Your Head, in 1969. 

He wouldn't release another album until returning to his original love, skiffle, in more recent years. In 2004 came It’s Folk ‘N’ Skiffle, Mate! with Remains drummer Chip Damiani, and Skiffledog On Coburg ST followed in 2011. He released a Christmas album the following year, Merry Skifflemas!, recorded with Peter Miller, a.k.a. Big Boy Pete, a former member of fellow British Invasion act Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers.

“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," Eric Burdon told Guitar International. "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.”

One future star paying attention was Bruce Springsteen, who credited the band with being a pivotal influence on his own career in his keynote speech at the music industry's SXSW conference in 2012. "They weren’t nice, you know?" Springsteen said. "They didn’t curry favour, you know? They were like aggression personified. It’s my life, I’ll do what I want. They were cruel. They were cruel, which was so freeing. It was so freeing." 

"We were among those responsible for turning on white America to the blues music that was already right in their own backyard," said Valentine. "They just didn’t know it."

A cause of death has not yet been announced.