R.I.P. Hilton Valentine, Guitarist of The Animals Dead at 77

Eric Burdon called Valentine the band's "secret weapon"

Hilton Valentine The Animals
Hilton Valentine of The Animals

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

A representative for ABKCO Records announced Valentine’s passing on behalf of his wife, Germaine Valentine. A cause of death was not immediately made available.

In 1963, Valentine was recruited by Eric Burdon, Chas Chandler, and Alan Price to join what would become The Animals. The UK band quickly made a name for themselves thanks to their high-energy concerts and rock ‘n’ roll covers of Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, and John Lee Hooker. They achieved their first No. 1 single in 1964 with “House of the Rising Sun”, on which Valentine is credited with playing the song’s iconic arpeggio introduction.

The Animals’ early success culminated in visit to America in October 1964. As was the case for The Beatles months earlier, The Animals were met with great fanfare as they arrived in New York City for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, the fame weighed heavily on the band, and by May 1965, Price departed. Burdon began butting heads with songwriters from Brill Building — where many of the group’s hits were composed — and eventually the group switched record labels. By 1966, The Animals’ original lineup officially disbanded.

While Burton continued on under the banner Eric Burdon and the Animals, Valentine instead pursued a solo career. He and the rest of The Animals’ original lineup did however reunite on several occasions, including in 1968, 1975, 1983, and in 1994 — when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In a recent interview with Guitar International, Burton discussed Valentine’s impact on the band. “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,” Burton said. “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.”