LONDON (AP) – Hilton Valentine, the founding guitarist of the English rock and roll band The Animals, who is credited with one of the most famous opening riffs of the 1960s, has passed away. He was 77 years old.
The band label ABKCO Music confirmed that Valentine died on Friday and said that his wife Germaine told Valentine of his death. The cause of death was not given.
“Valentine was a seminal guitarist who influenced the rock and roll sound for decades,” the label said in a statement.
Valentine took up guitar in his hometown of North Shields in north-east England at the age of 13 and then became embroiled in the skiffle craze – a kind of fusion of American folk, country, jazz and blues – that conquered Great Britain. His skiffle band The Heppers evolved into The Wildcats, a rock and roll band that became popular in the north of England, in part because of Valentine’s habit of rolling on the floor while playing the guitar.
After Valentine learned his trade, he founded The Animals in 1963 with singer Eric Burdon, bassist Chas Chandler, organist Alan Price and drummer John Steel.
The band’s most famous hit came in 1964 when their rocking version of the folk song “The House of the Rising Sun” topped the charts in both the UK and the US
The song, whose opening riff has since become a rite of passage for aspiring guitarists around the world, had such a resonance in the US that many people were surprised to hear that the band hailed from the industrial heartland of England.
Burdon paid tribute to Valentine on Instagram, writing, “Rising Sun’s opening work will never sound the same!… You didn’t just play it, you lived it! The sudden news of Hilton’s death broke my heart. “
Valentine stayed with the band for four years and is heard by the band’s other classics as well, including “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “We Have To Leave This Place” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”.
Valentine then released solo works and temporarily returned to the band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Valentine has lived in Connecticut for the past few years and returned to skiffle music with the formation of his band, Skiffledog.