In praise of The Animals

I recently read about the passing of Hilton Valentine, the original guitarist for The Animals, who has died, aged 77.

Valentine’s simple arpeggiated riff in the band’s version of the traditional tune House of the Rising Sun remains one of the most recognisable guitar parts in the history of rock’n’roll.

Valentine’s passing caused me to reflect on the wider influence of The Animals. The original lineup split by 1966, but in that time they recorded some memorable songs, including the huge hits We Gotta Get Out of This Place and their uptempo cover of (Don’t let me be) Misunderstood, originally written for and recorded by Nina Simone.

The Animals were one of the British groups from the early 1960s who took the R&B of the (predominantly black) artists in the US and repackaged it in a form that brought the genre – and its original performers – to a larger audience. A number of groups were part of this ‘wave’, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds, to name but a few. While it might make one baulk to think that it took the playing of ‘black music’ by white performers to make the style palatable to white audiences in America (racial segregation still existed in some states in the early 1960s), it is worth remembering that these same audiences later turned to the original artists themselves. This created career-changing opportunities for artists such as BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so many, many more.

Yet their influence on the artists who followed in their footsteps shouldn’t be underestimated. They were more than just local heroes in the north east of England; their activities after the breakup of the original group in 1966 led to a few significant ripples through the music world…

As well as the countless musicians who picked up a guitar to try and play House of the Rising Sun, or to start their own rhythm & blues outfit, The Animals also raised the profile of several well-known acts, one way or another.

Lead singer Eric Burdon became well respected for his soulful, yet gravelly, voice. After initially attempting to create a new version of The Animals (with only Burdon as the surviving founder member), he was soon teamed up with an up and coming R&B band. The resulting outfit – Eric Burdon and War – had success with the single Spill the Wine, and two albums together.

However, Burdon unexpectedly left the group halfway through a European tour. The band continued without Burdon, creating some very well-known hits in the 1979s, including Cisco Kid, Low Rider and Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Alan Price, keyboard player for the animals, had something if a dual career after the group disbanded. He worked with fellow 60s star George Fame for many years, while also writing film & theatre scores. He also released a few solo albums, and in his songs choices, became one of the first performers to bring the music of American songwriter Randy Newman (later famous for songs such as Short People and You’ve Got a Friend In Me) to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, Animals bassist Chad Chandler discovered a young Jimi Hendrix performing in Greenwich Village, New York, and became his manager. He set up the legendary guitar player with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but used his connections to secure gigs in the UK for the group, and introduce him to contemporaries on the sixties music scene in London, such as The Beatles and Eric Clapton. In fact, the last time Hendrix performed live was onstage in London with Eric Burdon & War, the day before his tragic early death.

Chandler went on to manage the British glam-rock group Slade, who had several hits through the seventies (including one of the most well-known Christmas songs in pop music). His other business interests helped to build the Newcastle Arena, a sport and large capacity concert venue, which meant those of us in the region now got to see more of the bigger artists when they came around on tour!

I’m sure similar ‘family trees’ can be found throughout the history of rock’n’roll, and maybe it is the shared home region which fuels my fondness for them, but The Animals were much more than a few catchy songs and one incredibly famous guitar riff.

Rest in peace, Hilton Valentine (1943 – 2021). The music lives on.

Published by timguitar

Guitarist, composer, music therapist and avid bibliophile. Providing an insight into my life as a professional musician, lessons learned as an allied health practitioner, as well as various musings on the world of music in general. Expect plenty of articles about music & wellbeing, classical guitar, jazz, world/roots genres, and all sorts of guitar-related chat.

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