About a month ago YouTube decided I really needed to see more videos about the Animals. Fair enough, I always like the band just like I enjoyed most of the 60’s groups.Eric Burdon has always been the main focal point of course but there was also Alan Price on keyboards, bassist Chas Chandler who had another career as manger of Hendrix and Slade as well as John Steel the unremembered but hugely talented drummer. As usual though it wasn’t the main men who intrigued me, I was most curious about the enigmatic guitarist Hilton Valentine who died last week at the age of 77.
In the 60’s Newcastle was a million miles from London which is why the band were so unique, despite having the same musical heritage as most English bands of the time. At least their isolation gave them the chance to hit London fully formed. From the start they were a tight hard hitting band, better than the early Stones (although a lot of bands were).Where they were to miss out on the transition to harder rock is their focus on ensemble playing. Alan Price was a talented player and made no secret of the fact that he could play soul music and songs from the shows and clearly felt his talent was wasted with endless Johnny Lee Hooker numbers.He was the nearest they had to a virtuoso, the other members were ensemble players
What really made the band different from the other blues bands was the fact that they lacked a guitar hero. Valentine was recruited to the band because he was a genuine rocker. He dressed the part and onstage he her was a discernible presence visually.The truth is that technically he probably wasn’t even the best guitarist in the Animals, Valentine played rock solid rhythm simple riffs and the odd chuck berry derived solo. His economy was his strength, its not easy to keep things simple and powerful just ask Johnny Ramone, you cant he’s dead but you get the picture.
Valentine’s musical legacy is the intro of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, like everything else he played its something that can be copied by any competent amateur player but until Valentine created it there was nothing to copy.
For four years he was a star by virtue of his band, America in particular loved the Animals, a lot of YouTube footage is from American TV shows with the band trying to fit into the format of family entertainment. After Price had left to be replaced by Dave Rowberry the band slowly mutated into an early version of the Doors but Valentine’s role never really changed.He remained an enigmatic figure, he seemed to be a bit a of a loose cannon verbally, never really able to deal with the mundane interviews that are a professional pop stars daily job.
By 1967 the band were no more. According to Burdon Valentine had taken on the west coast peace and love vibe and was spending most of his time tripping in a room full of stuffed animals (I think we are talking cuddly toys rather than taxidermy but its still weird). He even made a solo album with a folky/pop/psychedelic vibe. This pointed to a new direction but then the guitarist disappeared from view.
That’s another interesting thing about Valentine, He’s spent 4 years as a pop star followed by over 50 years of not being a pop star. There was a brief reunion producing one of the most perfunctory LPs ever ‘Before we were so rudely Interrupted’ in the 70’s. There’s a clip of the band getting back together, they clearly haven’t been practicing and had borrowed instruments for the appearance. It’s impossible to hear Valentine as he’s been give an acoustic guitar but as usual he seems happy to tag along. There was a further 80”s reconciliation where they were clearly searching for a new direction which involved recruiting keyboards and a second guitar to play the widdly bits Valentine wasn’t interested in. He spent around 20 years cultivating different variations of the mullet haircut further cementing the impression that this was a man who didn’t give a fuck musically or otherwise.
More recently he’s been involved in a skiffle project which brought his mini career full circle, he was able to return to basic simple music and hopefully make a small amount of money in the process.But most of the time he’s lived a life pretty similar to all elderly men who like to play guitar occasionally, whole decades are missing from the Hilton Valentine biography but, should anyone wish to make the film I would rather watch it than ‘Rocket Man’.
Here’s an electrifying performance from the band where energy more than compensates for dodgy sound and demonstrates how Valentine was a definite asset in the excitement department
The 70’s saw a brief reunion, clearly there’s still a bit of tension in the band and with punk on the way and the concept of ‘legacy bands’ yet to be invented no one was that interested. Valentine maintains a discreet silence throughout.
Allegedly Alan Price was really disinterested in recording the bands biggest hit and had to be cajoled into participating with an awesome organ solo.Valentine contributes the iconic intro but apparently when the record was released it was credited as Trad arranged Price. Whatever the reasons for this Price apparently pocketed the royalties and left the band. My lawyers have advised me to use the word allegedly again but if it is true Valentine missed a big payday but he became a Buddhist so what does he care.
Here it is again