As the original guitarist for the British Invasion group The Animals, Hilton Valentine will probably be best remembered for the now-iconic arpeggiated opening riff from their 1964 hit “The House of the Rising Sun.” But Valentine was a lot more than that one moment. As a guitar player and composer, he was comfortable playing folk, skiffle, rhythm and blues and, of course, rock ’n’ roll music over his long career.
Over the years, Valentine always kept “The House of the Rising Sun” in his act, even when he was doing solo shows.
“Because it was originally a folk song, it fitted well with playing an acoustic guitar,” said Valentine in a 2011 interview on Connecticut Public Radio. “Knowing that I didn’t have to do it the way Eric Burdon sang it, which I could never do, I did a folk-type version, and it still holds a lot of credence for me, you know?”
Hilton Valentine was born in 1943 in the North East English town of North Shields. He took to the guitar at an early age, and like many kids growing up in Great Britain in the 1950s, Valentine was taken with skiffle music and played in local skiffle bands before joining The Animals in 1962.
Valentine’s fascination with the genre would reemerge in the 2000s with the formation of his group Skiffledog.
“It is going back to my roots. It is exactly what I was playing when I was 13, 14 years old. And basically, I wanted to sing again, and they were the songs I could sing,” he said.
Along with “The House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals had a string of hits in the mid-1960s, including “It’s My Life,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Valentine moved to Connecticut and settled in Wallingford in the late 1990s.
Hilton Valentine died Friday at the age of 77. The cause of his death has not been disclosed.