Hilton Valentine
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Hilton Valentine


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By Hank Hoffman

Hilton Valentine, former guitarist for British Invasion hitmakers The Animals, has been to the pop summit. His fretwork keyed such mid-1960s Top 40 classics as “House of the Rising Sun,” “It’s My Life,” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” Across Vietnam War-era suburbia, teen combos in garages grappled with trying to replicate Valentine’s taut arpeggios, catchy electric 12-string figures, and — in a song like “Don’t Bring Me Down” — chords sizzling with fuzztone distortion.

From 1964, when The Animals moved to London and began their string of chart successes, to the original band’s breakup in 1966, it was, says Valentine, “like a crazy, traveling party.” As a member of The Animals, Valentine was inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

But these days, Valentine, who relocated to Connecticut from England after marrying his wife, Germaine, in 1997, is playing mostly acoustic guitar and readying his second CD of skiffle music with his band, Skiffledog. An outgrowth of British “trad jazz,” or Dixieland, skiffle became an English pop phenomenon in the mid-1950s on the strength of hits by singer Lonnie Donegan like “Rock Island Line.” Valentine was one of thousands of English youngsters — John Lennon and Paul McCartney were a couple of others — to get caught up in the skiffle craze.

“It was our music,” recalls Valentine. “Parents didn’t like it so we loved it. There was a revolution going on.”

At the age of 13 in 1956, Valentine formed The Heppers with a group of school friends in North Shields, a fishing town on the northeast coast of England. Like many of the teen bands of the time, The Heppers’ set list mixed adrenaline-fueled Lonnie Donegan covers of American folk blues tunes like “Wreck of the Old ’97” with early rock ‘n’ roll songs: Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and, more obscurely, Charlie Gracie’s “Fabulous.” Regarding Gracie, Valentine tells me in his distinctive Geordie accent, “I just met him last year. It was a thrill for me. I had tears welling up in me eyes.”

American rock ‘n’ roll groups had already adopted the well-known guitar/bass/drums format with an occasional Jerry Lee Lewis wannabe hammering the ivories. But skiffle groups — apropos of their stronger folk music influences — took a decidedly more down home approach.

Valentine played acoustic guitar. Other band members plucked away at a tea-chest bass, scrubbed a washboard, or played a comb and paper to get a kazoo sound.

“One of the guys had a little plastic toy saxophone (which played) one note. We played ‘See You Later, Alligator,’” says Valentine, and the saxophonist would follow the refrain with a “toot, toot, toot, toot” solo of the one note. Their first drum was a biscuit tin.

The Heppers debuted before an audience of “old-age pensioners” in a church hall. The enthusiastic young teenagers went over great with the seniors. Somebody passed the hat.

“We made a few bob and I thought, ‘Oh, this is good. I’ll keep doing this,’” remembers Valentine.

“We were a novelty. They had never seen anything like this before. Nobody had seen anything like this. It was all new,” says Valentine.

Valentine particularly recalls the reaction to their performance of “Wreck of the Old ’97.” When the band sang the lines, “He was coming down the line going 90 miles an hour/ when the whistle broke into a scream/ they found him in the wreck with his hand upon the throttle/ he’d been scalded to death by steam,” Valentine says, “There was a big ‘Oh!’ in the audience. Oh my goodness! They’d never heard lyrics like that before.

“To us, ‘skiffle’ and ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ were just names. It was all the same thing,” says Valentine. “The photographs we saw of Elvis were with an acoustic guitar. We didn’t differentiate.”

Still, as the skiffle fad faded, groups adapted by taking up rock instrumentation: electric guitars and bass, drums. With some personnel changes The Heppers evolved into The Wildcats.

“My first amplifier was a radio, which had inputs in the back. They were supposedly for a gramophone to be plugged into it but a guitar could plug into it quite easily. But that was good because in the dressing room we could listen to the radio,” jokes Valentine, adding, “Dressing room, quote unquote.”

Valentine played with The Wildcats into the early-1960s, acquiring a reputation as a dynamic performer. In 1963, bass player Chas Chandler recruited Valentine to join the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo. Fronted by the bluesy, howling vocalist Eric Burdon, the group was rechristened The Animals in recognition of their gritty, wild stage act.

“House of the Rising Sun,” their second single, featured riveting electric guitar arpeggios by Valentine, a feral Burdon vocal, and swirling organ playing by Alan Price. It hit the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in the summer of 1964, launching the group on a hectic two-year nonstop treadmill of live shows, television appearances, and recordings.

“I remember one tour we did of the States. We finished off doing The Ed Sullivan Show in New York, came straight out of the studio into a limo to JFK, flew to England, got into a van, drove up north, and started a four-week tour of England,” says Valentine.

Besides coming to America to tour, Valentine counts meeting rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry and The Beatles — “especially John Lennon” — among the high points of his Animals career. The Animals’ first tour of Britain was as a support act to Berry. The Animals shared the occasional billing with The Beatles on TV shows like Top of the Pops.

“We did some socializing in London clubs. Groups used to just descend on these clubs after hours and whoever was there was there,” says Valentine. “You’d see The Beatles there, the Stones, Pretty Things, the Hollies. Most of the bands around in the ’60s were living in London at that time.”

Did he experience culture shock transitioning from the working class northeast of England to the roaring vortex of a pop culture revolution? Absolutely, says Valentine.

“I think that’s why a lot of people freaked out. I certainly did my share of freaking out,” he says.

After the demise of the original lineup of The Animals, Valentine stopped playing music for several years. He picked it up again in 1970 after relocating to southern California, recording the solo album All In Your Head. Valentine has since disowned the LP, feeling its Donovan-esque psychedelic folk music was smothered in inappropriate production flourishes. (Personally, I think it is quite a beautiful period-piece record.) The original lineup of the group reunited in 1976 and 1983 to record albums of new material. Valentine has also toured intermittently with other former members of The Animals, including a 2007-2008 stint with Eric Burdon.

The impetus to record and perform skiffle again, Valentine says, came from his wife, Germaine. She pushed him to record the first Skiffledog CD, It’s Folk n’ Skiffle, Mate! in 2004.

“I was sitting around the house playing these songs. She said, ‘Have you ever recorded these songs? Well, you should,’” says Valentine.

More than half of the first CD was made up of original tunes, augmented with a couple of old skiffle numbers — including “Wreck of the Old ’97” — and covers of songs by John Lennon (“Working Class Hero”) and Donovan (“Ballad of a Crystal Man”). Much of it featured just Valentine singing over his acoustic guitar.

The upcoming CD, Skiffledog on Coburg Street, was recorded late last year at a studio in Athens, Georgia. It features Valentine’s full skiffle band, including a washboard player, electric bass player, and a drummer who plays just a snare drum with brushes. With the exception of some backing vocals and guitar solos, it was recorded live in the studio, according to Valentine. The new record consists predominantly of rock ‘n’ roll and skiffle covers, reflecting what the band has been playing at gigs.

“There was quite a similarity of intensity between skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of energy,” says Valentine.

I suggest to him that, judging from the mp3 clips of rough mixes of the new recordings on his website (now official clips), many of the songs filter an almost punk rock level of energy through the acoustic instrumentation.

He agrees, saying, “Yes, attitude! Yes, indeed.”

Skiffledog on Coburg Street will be available for purchase in late March at hiltonvalentine.com as well as cdbaby.com and iTunes. Skiffledog will be performing on April 30 at Keeney Memorial Cultural Center in Wethersfield. Tickets are $20 and available through hiltonvalentine.com.

Hilton Valentine in an Athens, Georgia recording studio in November 2010 working on his new album. Photo by Germaine Valentine

Hilton Valentine, far left, with The Animals i n1965. Image courtesy of Mr. Valentine

Artist Nicholas Frasco, left, and Hilton Valentine will appear together at an April 30 performance. Photo by Germaine Valentine
- The Arts Paper : Art Council of Greater New Haven

'House of the Rising Sun'
The Animals (1964)
Far and away the oldest song on this list, at least in terms of pedigree, 'House of the Rising Sun' is an American folk ballad that some have traced back to 18th-century England. The song had already been recorded by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and several others when the Animals' Hilton Valentine plugged in his guitar and dragged it into the age of electric. - Spinner.com

The Animals, Hilton Valentine

by Mick DuRussel

He is one of the original wild men of rock and roll, often found ripping off his shirt and getting down on the ground wailing away on his guitar back in the early 60's. Hilton Valentine went on to become the guitarist for the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Animals. His guitar riff that opens “House of the Rising Sun” was voted number 29 on the top 100 guitar riffs of all time! He continues to play, though no longer the wild man! I had the great pleasure to speak with Hilton from his Connecticut home…

MICK: Is it true that “House of the Rising Sun” was recorded in one take?

HILTON: Yes it was!

MICK: Do you still have the Gretsch Tennessean guitar that you used on that classic song?

HILTON: No I don’t. I can’t even remember what happened to it. I don’t have any of my old guitars.

MICK: In 1964, the Animals appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. What was the experience like for you and the band?

HILTON: It was a strange experience. It was strange for us to be going on a show that had such a variety of acts. I think there was an elephant there, when we were on! And there was that Topo Gigio guy. It was the first time we were on this kind of family orientated situation. There was a feeling amongst us that once we had done The Ed Sullivan Show, that was breaking us into America. That was the show that did it for everybody.

MICK: I know The Animals toured with Chuck Berry early on. What was that like touring with the father of rock and roll?

HILTON: That was amazing. That was the first tour that the Animals ever did in England. We had “Baby Let Me Take You Home” which was our first single that was released in England and because of that, we got to go on the Chuck Berry tour. At that time, there was always five or six acts that were on the bill that went around in a Greyhound Bus kind of thing. We went from city to city in England. The fact that we were working with one of our idols was just amazing!

MICK: And he’s still playing today too!

HILTON: He probably still just travels with his guitar and arrives at whichever gig and there’s always a band set up for him. He just plugs in, runs through a few songs, goes off to get something to eat, comes back to do the show and then off he goes!

MICK: When the band dissolved in 1966, was there any bitterness among the band members?

HILTON: No, I don’t think so. It was all quite amicable.

MICK: Are you still friends with the guys from the band today?

HILTON: Well I wouldn’t say I was friends with Alan Price. I’m sort of friends with Eric [Burden]. I saw him about two years ago. We toured together for a couple of years which ended two years ago. I’m not really friends with John Steele.

MICK: You have a new CD coming out this spring?

HILTON: Yes! It’s called Skiffledog on Coburg Street. Coburg Street is where I grew up in my hometown of North Shields, England, which is beside Newcastle. There’s a lot of skiffle songs on the album. It was basically relearning those old songs again and singing them, which is what I used to do when I was 13 or 14. There’s some original stuff as well.

MICK: Is this an acoustic album?

HILTON: Yes it is!

MICK: Will you be touring this year?

HILTON: As soon as the album is mixed and mastered and pressed! We are doing a gig in Bordentown, New Jersey on March 19th at a place called “The Record Collector”. And on April 30th, we will be at The Keeney Memorial Cultural Center in Wethersfield CT. This is the gig with Nick Frasco, the artist who drew the Skiffledog for our last album. An evening of art and music!

MICK: Are there any plans for an Animals reunion?

HILTON: No. The Animals bass player Chas Chandler passed away a few years ago. I can’t see the band getting together with a different bass player.

MICK: What are your long range plans, looking past the spring release of your new CD?

HILTON: I just want to get out and start promoting this CD and keep it going. Hopefully I will do another one in a couple of years!

You can find out more about Hilton Valentine on his website www.hiltonvalentine.com - Spot On Long Island Online Magazine

Q&A with Hilton Valentine

An Animal Loose in Athens

Flagpole sat down with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Hilton Valentine (original lead guitarist for The Animals) this week to talk about his new project, Skiffledog, a return to his earliest musical roots in the 1950s British skiffle scene. Recording at Chase Park Transduction with Jeff Walls (The Woggles, Bomber City, etc.) and Dave Barbe, and joined by his wife and auxiliary percussionist, Germaine, Valentine was eager to discuss his recording endeavors both new and old, and gamely tossed out a few stories about his younger, wilder years paling around with the likes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.

Flagpole: What brings you to Athens and Chase Park Transduction Studios?

David Fitzgerald

(l to r) Jeff Walls, Hilton Valentine and Skiffledog drummer, Pat Quinn
Hilton Valentine: We wanted to record some stuff that we’d been playing for the last two or three years. I’ve got this band—we go out under the name of Skiffledog and under me own name. My wife Germaine thought it would be a good idea to ask Mr. Jeff Walls to produce it. We met Jeff with The Woggles up in Connecticut. He’s worked with the engineer Dave Barbe a few times, and they know each other very well, so it was a perfect opportunity to do these songs.

FP: How’s it coming? Are you happy with the studio and the album thus far?

HV: Very happy. It’s a really a good studio; it’s got a great sound. The people there know what they’re doing; they know about music, especially Dave. I’m really, really, really happy. We’ve got four or five songs mixed already.

FP: Can you give our readers a little background on skiffle?

HV: Back in the '50s in England, rock and roll was just startin’ to happen. There was one guy in particular, called Lonnie Donegan, who was playing skiffle music, and he came from a tradition which, I guess, you would call New Orleans Dixieland Jazz. And he was playin’ banjo in a band called the Ken Collier Band, so he was aware of people like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and he was playing and singing these songs, so he broke away and formed the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, playing this American folk music but pepped up quite a bit. And at that time for us, skiffle music and the rock and roll that was coming out—Little Richard, Elvis, Bill Haley—to us it was all the same. So, for the kids that were living in England at the time, the simplest thing to play was skiffle. You didn’t have to have electric guitars; we used washboards, tea chest bass. My first skiffle group had a little plastic saxophone with one note workin’. One guy played a comb and paper. We had a tin box for a drum. It was kinda like the jug bands in the States. And we’re now playing some of the songs that I played way back in the mid-'50s.

FP: Are you using any homemade instruments on this record?

HV: No, no. We’ve progressed [laughs]. We’ve advanced from the tin box to an actual snare drum played with brushes. And we’ve got a bass guitar, and Germaine plays washboard, eggs and tambourine.

FP: What kind of acts did you play with when you first started out?

HV: The first tour that The Animals played on was the Chuck Berry tour in England. His backing band was called King Size Taylor and the Dominoes. They did their own little set, and then Chuck came on. So, Chuck’s locked himself in his dressing room, and he won’t come out until he’s paid. Peter Grant, who ended up managing Led Zeppelin but at that time was the tour manager, is on his knees feeding pound notes under the door to Chuck. Backstage people were shoutin’ at King Size Taylor “One more! One more!” but meanwhile, the audience was shoutin’ “We Want Chuck! We Want Chuck!” Then they started wreckin’ the place. So, eventually he gets paid, he comes out, and the whole place goes wild. He finishes his show, walks back offstage, band’s still playin’, he’s straight off down the stairs, out the back door, into a car, and he’s away. The band’s still playin’, the audience is still shoutin’ “YEAH, MORE, MORE!” and we’re just in awe. But that came from his experience of playing and not gettin’ paid.

FP: In a lifetime of performing, is there one show or one moment that stands out as the biggest or most memorable?

HV: Coming to America at the time “House of the Rising Sun” was number one—that was a pretty big deal. To actually fly to New York and have this cavalcade of English sports cars driven into the city—it was quite an amazing thing—and, of course, meeting The Beatles. Of the whole British invasion of America, and the whole success of English bands, there was like The Stones, ourselves, The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer, Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers; these were all bands that had quite a lot of success, but above all of that was The Beatles. Nobody could touch them, and to meet them and hang out was a great thing. I really enjoyed that.

One night we were playin’ at this club, and Brian Epstein and The Beatles were there, and we were invited back to Brian Epstein’s place to have some more drinks. So, we’re there, drinkin’ and smokin’, doin’ the business, and there was this stuff called amyl nitrate. They were these vials wrapped up in bandages, and if somebody was having a heart attack they were snapped and poured down their nose and made the heart beat really fast to get the circulation going. So, as all good druggies do, you try everything. You got high for about 30 seconds, but that’s what was going around. They smelled like sweaty socks. Anyhow, at this point, all the amyl—we called them poppers—we were snortin’ em and gettin’ the rush, and there came a time when John Lennon shouts out “We got anymore of them poppers?” and Terry says “Nah, John, sorry, we’re out.”

So, Lennon just lifts up his arm, puts his nose in his armpit and goes “Oh, well [takes a big whiff].”

Jeff Walls: I remember you told me a great story one time about sittin’ in Mike Jeffries’ office and George Harrison callin’ on the phone.

HV: Yeah, I was in The Animals' office, and the secretary says, “Hilton, there’s a Jeff Chandler on the phone.” And I said “Jeff Chandler?” (he was an actor), so I thought “Jeff Chandler?” So, I answered the phone and heard “Hello, Hilton, it’s George here.” He wanted to know about an acid trip that I had. There were similarities between some acid trips he had taken, and what we had both experienced, and so he invited me down to his house, and we discussed the results.

FP: You’ve mentioned the Rolling Stones, too. Did you ever have any run-ins with them?

HV: Yeah, in fact, Brian Jones was the guy that first turned me on to acid. I don’t know if this is good stuff for your newspaper.

Germaine Valentine: So, Hilton carried on the tradition and turned Steve Winwood onto acid [laughs].

HV: And Jimi Hendrix. And Eric Burden. And Chas Chandler. It was my idea to call it The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Because of the book I was reading at the time: The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary [laughs].

GV: He was a bad influence [laughs].

HV: I’m alright now, though. I don’t do them things anymore. I just drink Newcastle Brown Ale.

FP: Do you think you’ll be back to play Athens at some point?

GV: Get your contacts to invite us!

HV: Yeah, I’d love to. Maybe Jeff can help us out with that—get us fixed up.

David Fitzgerald

- Flagpole


Title Release Date & Position

Sounds Of The Wildcats (UK LP)
Dancing Shoes; Tough Enough; Go On Home(?);
The Lady Is A Tramp; Joey's Song;
My Blue Heaven; Summer Holiday;
Instrumental (?); Summertime;
When My Dreamboat Comes Home

I Just Want To Make Love To You (UK EP) 10/63 - did not chart (DNC)
I Just Want To Make Love To You
Boom Boom
Big Boss Man
Pretty Thing

Baby Let Me Take You Home/ 03/64 08/64
Gonna Send You Back To Walker 21 57

The House Of The Rising Sun/ 06/64 08/64
Talkin' 'Bout You 1 1

I'm Crying/Take It Easy 09/64 10/64
8 19

The Animals (UK LP) 10/64
Story of Bo Diddley; Bury My Body;
Dimples; I've Been Around; I'm In
Love Again; The Girl Can't Help It;
I'm Mad Again; She Said Yeah; The
Right Time; Memphis Tennessee; Boom
Boom; Around and Around

The Animals (US LP) 09/64
The House Of The Rising Sun; Blue
Feeling; The Girl Can't Help It; Baby
Let Me Take You Home; The Right Time;
Talkin' 'Bout You; Around and Around;
I'm In Love Again; Gonna Send You Back
To Walker; Memphis Tennessee; I'm Mad
Again; I've Been Around

Boom Boom/Blue Feeling --- 11/64
--- 43

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood/ 01/65 02/65
Club A Go-Go 3 15

Animals On Tour (US LP) 03/65
Boom Boom; How You've Changed; I
Believe To My Soul; Mess Around; Bright
Lights, Big City; Worried Life Blues;
Let The Good Times Roll; I Ain't Got
You; Hallelujah I Love Her So; I'm
Crying; Dimples; She Said Yeah

Bring It On Home To Me/For Miss Caulker 04/65 05/65
7 32

Animal Tracks (UK LP) 05/65
Mess Around; How You've Changed;
Hallelujah I Love Her So; I Believe To
My Soul; Worried Life Blues; Roberta; I
Ain't Got You; Bright Lights, Big City;
Let The Good Times Roll; For Miss Caulker; Roadrunner

We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place/ 07/65 09/65
I Can't Believe It 2 13

Animal Tracks (US LP) 09/65
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place; Take It
Easy; Bring It On Home To Me; Roberta;
Story Of Bo Diddley; I Can't Believe It;
For Miss Caulker; Club A Go-Go; Don't Let
Me Be Misunderstood; Bury My Body

It's My Life/I'm Gonna Change The World 10/65 12/65
7 23

Inside Looking Out/Outcast 02/66

Inside Looking Out/You're On My Mind 02/66

Don't Bring Me Down/Cheating 05/66 05/66
6 12

Animalisms (UK LP) 06/66
One Monkey Don't Stop No Show; Maudie;
Outcast; Sweet Little Sixteen; You're
On My Mind; Clapping; Gin House Blues;
Squeeze Her, Tease Her; What Am I Living
For; I Put A Spell On You; That's All I
Am To You; She'll Return It

Animalization (US LP) 08/66
Don't Bring Me Down; One Monkey Don't
Stop No Show; You're On My Mind; She'll
Return It; Cheating; Inside Looking Out;
See See Rider; Gin House Blues; Maudie;
What Am I Living For; Sweet Little Sixteen;
I Put A Spell On You

See See Rider/She'll Return It --- 09/66



Hilton Valentine is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee with 60s British Invasion band, The Animals. As with many young lads in 50's Britain, the skiffle craze hit him hard and he formed his own skiffle band called The Heppers. He played his first professional gig at age 13. They played locally in halls and at outdoor venues, with the newspaper calling them "a young but promising skiffle group."

The Heppers eventually evolved into the rock and roll band, The Wildcats. They were a very popular band in the Tyne & Wear area getting continuous work in Church Halls, Working Men's Clubs and Dance halls. It was at one of these shows that Hilton was recruited into a band that would become The Animals.

Hilton played with The Animals until their breakup in September 1966. In 1970 he recorded a solo album of what some people categorize as psychedelicized folk music titled All In Your Head.

Hilton has reunited with the original lineup of Animals three times since their split.

In 1994, Hilton was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Animals.

1994 Hilton started playing Animals music again and toured the world until June 2001. In May 2001, he was inducted into Hollywood's Rock Walk of Fame along with the other Animals and had a two night reunion concert at the El Rey Theatre.

Although he spent some time touring with original Animals singer Eric Burdon from Feb '07 - Dec '08, mostly, since 2004, Hilton has been concentrating on the music that got him started playing guitar. Skiffle and early Rock & Roll. As he did when he was 13, he plays it all with an acoustic guitar. In 2004 He released a CD under the name SKIFFLEDOG titled It's Folk 'n' Skiffle, Mate! His latest CD issued under his own name and titled Skiffledog on Coburg ST, was released in March 2011.