WALLINGFORD — Guitarist Hilton Valentine, a founding member of the legendary British group The Animals, died Friday morning.
His death was revealed by his wife, according to a statement from the record company Abkco. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Valentine, 77, was an internationally known musician who had lived in Wallingford since 1997.
His wife, Germaine Valentine, is a Meriden native who worked for the town of Wallingford for many years.
Valentine was born in North Shields, Northumberland, England. He was a founding member of The Animals, one of the bands that led the British Invasion of rock music in the 1960s.
He created one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock music history with his intro on "The House of the Rising Sun," which hit No. 1 in 1964 in the U.K., U.S. and Canada, and is recognized among Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time.
Valentine’s other hits with The Animals include “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which struck a chord with American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Upon their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum described The Animals essential standing as a “key link in the evolving transition from black R&B to punk rock.”
Biographer John Corcoran’s Rock Hall Induction essay stresses how their working-class experience was key to how their folk and blues interpretations would resonate so distinctly compared to The Yardbirds, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
“We at Abkco have been privileged to serve as stewards of The Animals catalog and his passing is felt in a truly profound way by the entire Abkco family,” the record company statement said.
From skiffle to rock and back again
After taking up the guitar at the age of 13, Valentine got involved in the skiffle craze then sweeping the British Isles.
He was orphaned at age 16 and was focused on his skiffle group, The Heppers. They evolved into The Wildcats, a rock and roll band that built a reputation in his native north of England based on Valentine’s energetic performances — he was known to roll on the ground while playing his guitar.
"What drew me to the guitar was seeing Lonnie Donegan doing ‘Rock Island Line’ on television, on a show called ‘The Six Five Special,’” Valentine recalled in 2006 while speaking with journalist Tom Guerra in Modern Guitars magazine.
“I wanted to play guitar after seeing that, and of course, after hearing Chuck Berry and seeing him do the duck walk," he said.
Valentine caught the attention of Chas Chandler, Alan Price and Eric Burdon who recruited him to join a new group they were forming in 1963. With the final addition of John Steel, they would become The Animals.
Hilton left The Animals in 1966, although he rejoined his former bandmates for several reunions. The band in its original line-up was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Burdon, speaking to Guerra for Guitar International magazine, recently commented on the role Valentine played in bringing The Animals hard-edged sound to the fore.
“It really was Hilton who made the early Animals a rock band,” Burdon said, “because I don’t think the element of rock was in the band until we found him. In those days, 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.”
Valentine released a solo album in 1969 titled “All in Your Head” for Capitol Records. He later reunited with The Animals three times thereafter and recorded “Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted” with the band in 1977 and joined them again in 1983.
In May 2001, he was inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame along with the other Animals and had a two-night reunion concert at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
In recent years, Valentine returned to skiffle music and formed the band Skiffledog that toured in the U.S. and released two albums.
In 2011, he recorded a holiday album with Big Boy Pete called “Merry Skifflemas,” referred to on the package as a “festive blend of traditional oldies and original newbies.”
He joined Burdon, with whom he remained close, on tour in 2007-2008.