Hilton Valentine, founding Animals guitarist, dies at 77

Hilton Valentine, the founding guitarist of the English rock and roll band The Animals who is credited with coming up with one of the most famous opening riffs of the 1960s, has died. He was 77.

The band’s label ABKCO Music confirmed that Valentine died on Friday, saying it was told of his death by his wife, Germaine Valentine. The cause of death was not given.

“Valentine was a pioneering guitar player influencing the sound of rock and roll for decades to come,” the label said in a statement.

Valentine took up the guitar at 13 in his hometown of North Shields in northeast England, subsequently getting involved in the skiffle craze — a kind of fusion of American folk, country, jazz and blues — that was sweeping the U.K. His skiffle band The Heppers evolved into The Wildcats, a rock and roll band that became popular across the north of England, partly because of Valentine’s habit of rolling on the ground while playing his guitar.

Having learned his craft, Valentine formed The Animals in 1963 alongside singer Eric Burdon, bassist Chas Chandler, organist Alan Price and drummer John Steel.

The band’s most famous hit came in 1964, when their rock-infused take of the folk song “The House of the Rising Sun” topped the charts in both the U.K. and the U.S.

The song, whose opening riff has been a rite of passage for budding guitarists around the world ever since, had such resonance in the U.S. that many people were surprised to hear that the band came from the industrial heartland of England.

Burdon paid tribute to Valentine on Instagram, writing: “The opening opus of Rising Sun will never sound the same!… You didn’t just play it, you lived it! Heartbroken by the sudden news of Hilton’s passing."

Valentine remained with the band for four years and is also heard on other classics by the band including “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Valentine released solo work subsequently and intermittently returned to the band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

In recent years, Valentine has been living in the U.S. state of Connecticut, returning to skiffle music with the formation of his band Skiffledog.