RIP Hilton Valentine – Tutorial For Guitar Players ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ Intro


HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN !!! – Hilton Valentine’s immortal riff. Here’s Hilton Valentine’s immortal guitar riff introducing this revolutionary record released by the Animals in 1964.

Brian May: The House of the Rising Sun

Hi Folks

Good evening – well good morning wherever you are. I’m going to take you back to 1964 when a revolutionary sound burst upon the airwaves – something like this. It’s ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, an immortal record made by The Animals and it really was totally revolutionary in its time because English pop music was not like that. it was very fluffy and rather lovely and melodic and sweet, but it didn’t have the passion that this had.

These guys from the North and th Midlands of England didn’t care about English music that much. What they loved was the music of the black Blues men, who put into their music a passion and a feel and an urgency which really wasn’t known in England at that time. So they’re one of the pioneers of the Blues. We called it Rhythm and Blues at that time, I don’t know why it was called Rhythm and Blues around where we were, but it ushered in a whole era, which included The Rolling Stones, and ater on Eric Clapton with The Yardbirds and then Jimi Hendrix, who came along and I guess changed everything because he took it – he took Blues into space in some way – in musical style.

But ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ was played by Hilton Valentine and we lost him today [29 January, Connecticut, USA]. Very sad he went to the next place. So I’m playing this in tribute to him.

I’m going to show you guys if you want to tune into the next thing I’m going to do, I’m going to show you how to play the riff roughly. If you want. Has to be played roughly. It’s not about perfection. It’s about feel and that’s partly what made this record so exciting, so raw.

I think Eric Burdon did a great job on the vocals. Young white boys always didn’t sing like that in those days, but he did, and he’s still around. Amazing guy. The bass player – have a look at the videos of The Animals – playing this song – the big guy on the bass is Chas Chandler who’s the guy who went to America and discovered Jimi Hendrix and brought him back to England. There’s a story. There’s a lot of stories actually.

But I’m going to leave it at that and say R.I.P. Hilton Valentine. We love ya; and thank you for this amazing, amazing contribution to the development of Rock music. Gonna always love it.

RIP Hilton – and thank you for these great steps into the future of Rock.


For Guitar Players only ! Well, mainly … if you’re interested in that HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN intro …. here’s my take on it … cheers !

Bri ( sorry this got stuck last night …)

Brian May: TUTORIAL FOR GUITAR PLAYERS ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ intro

Okay this one’s for guitar players.

First of all notice I’ve taken this off. There’s no whammy bar on this because this, this is a time when whammy bars were not very cool. They were for The Shadows, but the Blues people that came along didn’t like whammy bars. I do, but for this there’s a good reason for not having it because it’s very sensitive on tuning. Now you’ll notice I’m not really in tune when I was playing that riff. There’s a couple of reasons for that

Firstly the strings are quite slack that we use these days and they’re slack so you can bend them so they do … well those kind of things

In those days people weren’t bending strings that much and certainly Hilton Valentine wasn’t. What he’s doing is, he’s playing a rhythm guitar … but he’s playing not exactly a riff but a kind of an arpeggio through a chord. but it’s not a simple arpeggio. He could have if he wanted to be simple and accurate, he could have gone … … which is like the guitar was played on for instance Elvis’s ‘I Can’t Help falling In Love With You’. No, he does something a lot more subtle and complex and actually difficult. It’s not an easy riff to play.

He does a note, a bottom note … and then he kind of slides across the next three strings … and he doesn’t play each string separately. It’s not… It’s like going one single stroke, and you press against the strings and they kind of ping off if you press at the right, kind of use the right pressure. It’s actually not easy to do in time. It’s very sensitive to how much pressure you put on so you’ve got a bass note … and then that’s followed by “dum pum pum”, three notes coming down, which and these are picked individually … See the top second and third, so you got … sorry – you got … and that’s on an A minor chord. The next chord you do the same thing but use slightly different strings and this is where it gets interesting because it’s not that easy to figure out. The next chord is a C chord … and what he does is … I see he’s hitting the same strings there i think – I told you wrong – but the next chord is a D and you’ve got to hit, the bottom note has to be the D which is the fourth string … but then you don’t have enough strings to do the “bling” and the three notes coming down, so you’ve got to stay on that D to start so it’s … … That’s the the triplet and then you’ve got an F … Same thing here. You, you’ve already used your F note here, but you’ve got to use it again for the “bling” … Okay – and then back to the A … and then an E, an E major ..

Notice the bottom note in this case is the E – the bottom E, so you’re all the time doing different bass notes on different strings. It’s the kind of riff which the more you think about it, the more difficult it gets to play. It’s best not to think about it too much.

But there’s another thing to this. If you listen carefully, he never completes a chord. The reason is to get from one chord to another – I mean he’s just a boy. I mean, I’ve said I was just a boy. I was 17 at the time, but Hilton Valentine’s only 21 at the time – only four years older than me – and he’s relatively inexperienced as a guitarist, so to change from one chord to another he takes his hand off and then makes the next shape as we all kind of do. He takes it off for the last note of each riff so the last note of each riff is always an open string and this means the chords are not really right as they would be if you want to be perfectionistic about it, which we’re not.

So look at this. We go… Instead of a .. . that’s a … – an open string – because we take our hands off because we’re going to go to the next chord. … Now in this case it doesn’t matter whether we take our hand off or not because that’s an open string anyway so you get a ‘free’ passing note there … sorry …. and again take your fingers off and you’ve got time to put them back on for the D chord… That note doesn’t fit that chord at all. You’d expect it to be … but no, it goes … because you’ve taken your hand off. And the F…. that notedoesn’t fit the F chord either. You’d expect it to be … but it’s not. It’s … … …

You hear this note a lot … and it’s not something you notice when you’re first listening to the riff but you listen again, you hear that. Now if you’re really clever, if you’re really fluid on guitar, you don’t have to do that. You can go … you have to change very niftily after that last note but you gotta be careful because if you miss it, if you half do it, if you like half lift your hand off you get a kind of little disaster. You get … you get that kind of … … if you’re not sure if you’re off or on. You’re just muting the string and Hilton does that sometimes if you listen really carefully.

Thing is, he’s not aiming for perfection he’s aiming for that feel, ‘cos it’s a Blues kind of record. It’s very different from The Shadows and stuff that came before or The Ventures or whatever. He’s playing because he feels it and he wants that kind of rawness.

You notice he never looks at his guitar. He’s just looking at the camera in the videos and in a sense that’s probably the best way to do it. If you get too analytical you’re going to mess it up. So that’s the riff – immortal riff.

Yeah, I’m thinking to myself, I was just a kid listening too, and I was very excited. It’s one of the things which made me want to be a guitar player professionally, if you like, as opposed to getting a job (laughs), and I’m thinking he was just a kid too really. But they were high-flying and they achieved the amazing thing of taking a Blues-based record, an American Blues-based record, back to the States and getting a hit with it. They kind of conquered America – The Animals – which is amazing. Very young guys but really had something amazing together, I think.

God bless you Hilton Valentine …

If you listen to the record, he’s not playing these riffs all the way through as the record builds in intensity. He’s whacking it like proper rhythm right … …

Yeah. I was talking about tuning. It’s very difficult to keep this thing in tune because I have slack strings and the frets are quite high, so depending on how hard you’re pressing on a string it’s going to sound completely different pitch so especially this third string which is the slackest string so if you watch out for the D chord …, I press … very hard to get that in tune. What you’ve got to do, if you seriously want to play that music, put some heavy strings on and hit it hard.

Notice I’m using a plectrum in this case ‘cos you’ve got to do that for this kind of style. I like a metal plectrum ‘cos I don’t like it to bend – at all. I like to feel everything that happens in the contact of the string in the fingers, but these days I don’t use it. I pick so much. I’ve used a sixpence for years and years and I’m sure I will for ever, but there’s certain things, a lot of things nowadays, just like using the fingers on this hand ‘cos you get a little bit more feel in some cases.

I’m going to put my whammy bar back on now ‘cos I like it and I miss it.

So I  hope you’ve enjoyed this. I hope this makes a little bit easier to play ‘The House of the Rising Sun’.

God bless you all. See you soon.