Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electric 12-String: It's My Life

The name Hilton Valentine is not one that you hear much these days, and like The Hollies’ Tony Hicks, The Animals’ lead guitarist is often missing from the pantheon of guitar greats – that’s a pity. As much as Eric Burdon’s voice and Alan Price’s keyboards defined The Animals’ sound, Hilton Valentine was part of the equation. I’m not purposely eliminating Chas Chandler’s bass and John Steel’s drums, but this feature is about electric 12-string guitars and their owners.

There were several Animals’ recordings that used the electric 12-string guitar. One of the earlier tunes with this instrumentation was “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Despite the official video showing Valentine playing a Gretsch Tennessean 6-string electric, he actually played a white Vox prototype of the Mark XII electric 12-string. This guitar was given to him by Vox. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones received a 6 string (Mark VI) at about the same time. The Mark series of Vox guitars were teardrop shaped and Valentine is seen playing his on the cover of the American version the “Animal Tracks” album.

Since I’ve already featured “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” I’ll move on to another 12-string number, “It’s My Life.” On this selection, Valentine plays, what else, but a Rickenbacker electric 12-string. It was a 1993/12 model that was produced by Rickenbacker for export and was sold in the UK by Rose Morris and Company, Ltd.

Typically, these export Ricks are known by collectors as Rose Morris models. Valentine had two Rose Morris Rickenbackers – the other was a  model 1997 six-string which he is seen playing at the top of the page.

“It’s My Life” came to The Animals from producer Micky Most’s solicitation for songs from the Brill Building’s song factory in New York. This saga of independence and angst was written by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. It starts with a bass riff by Chas Chandler which is doubled by Valentine’s 12-string. While the song was a top ten hit in the UK and Canada, it only peaked at #23 in the US.

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