In praise of The Animals

Music

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.

Great Guitarists #11: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Great Guitarists

In this installment, a singer and guitar player who took the blues, folk and gospel and created what could arguably be considered the forerunner to rock’n’roll…

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born in 1915, Tharpe (born Rosetta Nubin) started playing guitar and singing in church at the young age of just four years old. Touring with an evangelical church troupe from the age of six, she settled in Chicago. Her stage name comes from her first marriage to preacher Thomas Tharpe at the age of 19; she carried on using the name Tharpe professionally after their divorce in 1984 , up until her death from a stroke in 1973 (during which time she remarried twice).

Tharpe is perhaps best remembered as a singer, with a loud clear singing style. But something about her singing, combined with her foot stomping and blues-tinged guitar picking – not to mention some cool lead lines – stirred the interest in many young listeners who would go on to be the next generation of musicians. Little Richard and Johnny Cash both called Tharpe their favourite singer, she is cited as a crucial influence to artists such as Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes, Meatloaf and Karen Carpenter. Tharpe’s appearance on a British TV special about the Blues and Gospel Caravan, a European tour of US musicians that also included Muddy Waters, Otis Span and Sonny Terry, amongst many others, brought her to the attention of British audiences, including future guitar superstars like Eric Clapton.

“Tharpe’s guitar style blended melody-driven urban blues with traditional folk arrangements and incorporated a pulsating swing that was a precursor of rock and roll”

Biography.com (‘Sister Rosetta Tharpe’, 2015)

Tharpe’s guitar playing is said to have directly influenced the vocals/guitar style of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley – and if the first rock’n’rollers such as Berry, Presley and Richard call Tharpe an influence, she must the foundation of all that followed…

Tharpe’s career was curtailed by a stroke in 1970, and she died just three years later. Nowadays, her influence is often unfairly overlooked, and sometimes forgotten entirely. However, Tharpe played a crucial role in the history of American music of the 20th century, not to mention the birth of rock’n’roll. Furthermore, in this brilliant article by Erin White, Tharpe is hailed as a Queer Icon too, largely due to speculation over her affair with singer Marie Knight.

Here she is on a TV show in the mid-sixties, singing a gospel song with a gospel choir, but playing a slightly overdriven Gibson Les Paul Custom (although we know these as a Gibson SG nowadays) with it’s three humbuckers. She also pops in a blues-based solo in the middle!

When I think of three humbucker guitars, I recall Neil Young’s ‘Black Beauty’ Les Paul, or the rock band KISS. As for the SG guitar shape, Angus Young of AC/DC and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath are the first two players who spring to most people’s minds – not a lady in her fifties singing a combination of blues and gospel. It must be remembered that for many, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first black woman they’d ever seen playing an electric guitar, and she could play! But what else should we expect from the Tharpe – one of a small handful who can truly claim to be the start, or inspiration, of rock’n’roll?

Recommended listening

Tharpe’s 1944 single Strange Things Happening Every Day, is considered one of the first rock’n’roll singles, and is the first ever Gospel record to make it onto Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade (now called their R&B chart). One her most acclaimed studio albums is Gospel Train (Mercury, 1956). This record marks the stylistic change, backed by New York session musicians, and is considered highly influential on later rock’n’roll artists.

With a career that took place from the 30’s to the early 70’s, it is sometimes best to seek out compilation albums in order to have all of Tharpe’s most well-known releases in one place. To that end, I would recommend Bring Back Those Happy Days: Greatest Hits and Selected Recordings (Jasmine, 2018), or the 4-CD set The Original Soul Sister (Proper, 2002).

As with each installment in the Great Guitarists series, I have only touched upon the surface of these influential players. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, as well as recommendations on who should be featured (I have another four or five lined up already – I wonder if anyone can guess who is coming next?). Until next time…

Examples of using intervals in guitar playing, part 2: fourths and fifths

Advice & Tips

Welcome back to this overview of intervals in guitar playing! In part one, we looked at thirds, sixths and tenths. In this follow up article, we will be taking a brief look at fourths and fifths. Both of these intervals can be used more ambiguously, as they remain the same in the context of a major or minor chord (when sticking to notes in diatonic scale, at least – more on that later). Because of this fact, they can utilized in slightly different ways to the tones they sit alongside in common scales. Let’s take a look…

Fourths

Fretting the two highest strings together at the same fret creates this classic double stop, which can be heard all over rock’n’roll, but famously in the intro and solo for Chuck Berry’s Jonny B. Goode. Berry developed this style so he could recreate horn lines, as his live band was a smaller ensemble than many bands of the time (which would typically have more than one sax, trumpet, trombone, among other brass instruments). Every rock guitarist that followed has used phrases first made famous by Berry, from Angus Young to George Harrison. It is also a useful interval for slide guitar playing as it can be used over major and minor chords alike (you can see an example of me playing 4ths with a slide on this cover video of a well-known song).

In jazz, Wes Montgomery pioneered the use of stacked fourths, creating chord-based solos using 4th intervals on top of each other (for example, one chord would sound, low to high, as A, D, G, C), and the shape would move in line with the melody. George Benson kept up this tradition, but would also regularly employ diads (two notes played together) of 4ths in his lightning-fast solos.

Fifths

A fifth is an inversion of a fourth, and vice versa. Here, the strict definition can become blurred – think of the intro to the Deep Purple song Smoke On The Water and you’ll hear diads playing the entire riff in what sound like fourths (eg, the first pair of notes is a D, then a G on top). However, since the melody is following the G minor pentatonic scale (as the song is in the key of G minor), I’d argue that this riff is an inverted fifth (D being the perfect fifth of G), as the melody note is higher than the harmony note.

In rhythm guitar, a root and fifth creates the classic power chord heard in most varieties of rock music. Alternating the fifth with a sixth, and moving back and forth between the two, gives the famous (almost cliché) rocking riff used by artists from Chuck Berry to Status Quo and beyond.

Variations on ‘perfect’

The intervals we have discussed above – using the fourth and fifth notes in a diatonic scale, create what is known as perfect fourth / fifth. However, as with any note, we can raise or lower it’s pitch by a semitone for a new musical sound. Flat fourths & fifths are both referred to as diminished (and of course be found in diminished chords and scales). Raised ones are called augmented. As a fourth and fifth are only a tone apart, a diminished fifth is exactly the same thing as an augmented fourth – just in case you were confused!

Apart from being the famous Devil’s chord (famously used on the Black Sabbath song Black Sabbath), this interval often occurs in Blues-based music. The Pentatonic Blues Scale is based on intervals of R, b3, 4, #4, (or b5), and b7. Likewise, in dominant seventh chords (for example, C7), the natural interval between the chord’s major third (E) and flat seventh (Bb) is a diminished fifth/augmented fourth. Highlighting these notes over these chords creates a wonderful effect without having to overthink your playing too much!

Finally…

There are a few intervals we haven’t covered in these two articles. Off the top of my head, these would be seconds, sevenths, octaves and extended intervals used in jazz chords and arpeggios, such as ninths, elevenths and thirteenths. I plan to look at octave-based playing in a future article, because it is a staple of my own guitar heroes, such as the great Wes Montgomery. However, if you’d like me to look into some of the other intervals (such as sevenths, which is a really useful colour tone in jazz), do let me know!