Gary James' Interview With Hilton Valentine of
The Animals

Hilton Valentine made a name for himself as guitarist for The Animals, one of the first wave of British Invasion groups. The Animals enjoyed success with songs such as "House Of The Rising Sun", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" and "It's My Life".

While The Animals are but a memory, Hilton Valentine goes on. He has his own website, and a new acoustic CD out.

Q - Hilton, I read Eric Burdon's autobiography "I Used To Be An Animal, But I'm Alright Now". The title would suggest that The Animals fame and success was so great that you guys went crazy. Would that be correct? Did all that fame go to your head or am I just reading too much into it?

A - Yeah, we did go crazy! I guess the fame did indeed go to our heads.

Q - You and The Animals are from Northern England, is that correct?

A - All of the original Animals were from Northern England. Our second keyboard player, Dave Rowberry was from London as was our second drummer, Barry Jenkins.

Q - In the early 60s, did the groups from, say Birmingham, know about the groups in London or Liverpool?

A - Yes, because most bands were touring the country.

Q - What accounts for the fact that so many groups formed in England at that point in time?

A - Well, different musicians have different reasons, but mine, as was a lot of others, was skiffle king Lonnie Donegan.

Q - Your guitar work was very distinctive in those early Animal recordings. Who did you model yourself after?

A - I didn't really set out to model myself after anyone, but I'm sure guitarists I listened to must have influenced me in some way. My faves at the time were Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley.

Q - How were The Animals received in the US when you came here in 1964? What kind of venues did you perform in?

A - Although no one invoked a response from the fans like The Beatles did, we still experienced mobs of screaming fans. We played theaters such as the Paramount Theater in New York, sports fields and I think we may have done some colleges as well. Of course, there were also TV appearances on Ed Sullivan, Shindig and American Bandstand.

Q - How was the group received in the Far East?

A - Very well. I think we only played Japan.

Q - You had a rough life. At seventeen, you were an orphan. When you have a father that deserts the family, and a mother who dies when you're young, what does that do to you? Does it make you even more motivated to succeed?

A - Actually, I had just turned sixteen when my mom died and my father was gone about a year or so before that. I was lucky enough to be taken in by my best friend's family, who treated me like their own. I suppose it did motivate me to make a life of my own.

Q - What sort of odd jobs did you work when you were seventeen?

A - When I was seventeen, I worked in a furniture factory, stocking timber in the kilns.

Q - Why did The Animals break up in September, 1966? Was it the constant pressures of touring and recording? According to Irwin Stambler's Encyclopedia Of Rock, Pop and Soul, one of the reasons The Animals broke up was "Some members self-destructive drug taking." It that true?

A - There were quite a few reasons that we broke up. We realized that we were getting ripped off financially. So, that certainly made everyone's emotions pretty raw. The constant touring definitely took it's toll. There was a dividing line within the band between those that took drugs and those that drank themselves silly.

Q - Mr. Stambler goes on to say "As a result of constant use of LSD, Hilton Valentine began to imagine he was Jesus Christ. His fantasizing reached the point that he not only quit music for a while, he retreated to his room for many months in 1967, never going out and speaking only to grocery store owners." Is any of that true?

A - I've heard that ridiculous statement before, about how I thought I was Jesus Christ. I have no idea where people get some of this stuff. I felt that I understood where Jesus Christ was coming from, but, that's as close as that statement goes.

Q - Why would Hilton Valentine need drugs? How big of a role did drugs play in the life of a successful touring, recording musician in the early to mid sixties?

A - Taking acid gave lots of people religious experiences of awakenings. Taking drugs was just an experimental phase. I don't think that I needed it. I just wanted to do it. It was fun. Drugs played a major role in every band that I new back then, from The Pretty Things to The Beatles. It was just the times. It was just what we did.

Q - And finally, Stambler writes, "He later overcame his problems." Did you have to got into re-hab or did you cold-turkey?

A - Neither. It was just a gradual cessation.

Q - What did it mean to you personally to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?

A - I feel it is a great honor.

Q - Why did you turn to acoustic music? Were you tired of Rock 'n Roll?

A - No. I'm not tired of Rock 'n Roll. I always play the acoustic at home and that is how I started out. I still enjoy playing Rock and Roll, but it became a hassle trying to find the right people to play with. I just played a Rock and Roll gig actually, when my old mates from The Wildcats came over from England for a visit. We had a little reunion of sorts and played a set down at my local pub.

Q - How is your life today?

A - My life is very good. I am very happy. My new acoustic CD is being very well received. Your readers can listen to clips and read reviews by visiting my website:

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* The Animals placed 14 songs on Billboard's Top 40 between 1964 and 1968