Hilton Valentine, the founding guitarist of the Animals, has passed away at the age of 77.
The band's label ABKCO confirmed the news with a statement on Friday via Instagram, "Our deepest sympathies go out to Hilton Valentine's family and friends on his passing this morning, at the age of 77. A founding member and original guitarist of The Animals, Valentine was a pioneering guitar player influencing the sound of rock and roll for decades to come."
Valentine was born in North Shields, Northumberland in England. Like most British kids at the time, Valentine was fascinated with skiffle and began playing the guitar at the age of 13 after watching Lonnie Donegan perform 'Rock Island Line' on a television show called 'The Six Five Special'.
He then formed a group called the Heppers and changed their name to the Wildcats after switiching to rock 'n' roll. By 1963, the band had success in the Newcastle area which put them in the spotlight among other local musicians. One of them includes keyboardist Alan Price, bassist Chas Chandler and singer Eric Burdon. They asked Valentine to join their R&B band that they were forming. Later, John Steel joined and the band became the Animals. Within a year, the group moved to London and signed on with Columbia.
"It really was Hilton who made the early Animals a rock band," Burdon told Guitar International, "because I don't think the element of rock was in the band until we found him. 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, winklepicker shoes, black jeans and a smile on his face playing through an echoplex, which was a secret weapon back then."
Burdon shared a post on his Instagram saying, "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. We had great times together, Geordie lad. From the North Shields to the entire world...Rock In Peace."