Hilton Valentine has died. As the original guitarist for pioneering British rock band The Animals, Valentine contributed some of the most potent riffs in the early history of British invasion rock—most notably on the band’s breakout hit “The House Of The Rising Sun,” which opens with Valentine’s soaringly evil guitar intro. Valentine—who, with the rest of his original bandmates, was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994—occasionally reunited with them across his long career, and also played for several years with the group sometimes referred to as Animals II. Per THR, no cause of death has been announced. Valentine was 77.
Obsessed, like many kids of his generation, by the rise of skiffle in the U.K. in the 1950s, Valentine taught himself guitar (from a book titled Teach Yourself a Thousand Chords, according to the bio on his website), and began pursuing a skiffle career of his own. In 1963, he joined together with Chas Chandler, John Steel, Alan Price, and vocalist Eric Burdon to form the first incarnation of The Animals, blending their folk roots with the rising fascination with rock. Those interests hit their apex with “Rising Sun,” an old folk standard that The Animals swiftly made their signature song, with Valentine modifying Bob Dylan’s earlier guitar arrangement of the tune into an arpeggio that gave the track its distinctive opening.
Valentine would spend the next three years with The Animals, and while his bio notes that “once the Animals got into the studio, the guitar took a back seat,” his guitar, blending with Price’s organ, underpins such classic rock hits as “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” When the band broke up in 1966—driven apart by internal pressure and friction with the label—Valentine continued to play, recording a poorly received solo album, All In Your Head, in 1970.
Although he reunited with the originals Animals three times in the years since their dissolution—most recently in 1983—and sometimes toured on the band’s songs, Valentine also embraced his roots in later years, returning to his first love with albums like It’s Folk ‘n’ Skiffle, Mate! and 2011's Skiffledog On Coburg Street.