Now here’s a collaboration too good to be true: Two legendary guitarists from two legendary British bands of the early 1960s have teamed up and recorded a Christmas album! Big Boy Pete (aka Pete Miller) of Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and Hilton Valentine from the Animals are the deranged duo behind this delightfully demented disc, which supplies a giggle at nearly every turn.
Along with the smashing original tunes heard on Merry Skifflemas! (22 Records), a series of holiday classics are remodeled, attended by tweaked verse sprinkled with references to sex, pop culture and assorted eccentricities. A piping hot rockabilly take of “Silent Night” is one of the many chestnuts roasting on an open fire featured on the album. It’s hard to decipher all the lyrics, bellowed in a cool Carl Perkins-type voice, I may add, but it sounds like there’s something in there about raining beans.
Further rockabilly grooves arise on “Mistletoe Medley,” a brisk and bubbly instrumental that seamlessly melds “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and other tasty yuletide snacks into a swinging singular set before climaxing into a crashing jam. “The Twelve Lays of Christmas” is a kinky rewrite of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” while a mesmerizing treatment of “Little Drummer Boy” stirs feelings of peace and tranquility. Cribbing the melody and arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and changing the lyrics, “God Rest Ye Gerry Mulligan” is a rib-tickling tribute to the jazz great.
Big Boy Pete and Hilton rap and strum themselves into a skiffle-induced stupor on songs such as the finger-wagging “Naughty Naughty Santa” and the supremely catchy “It’s Skifflemas Time,” where “The Littlest Snowflake” is sensitive, quiet and thoughtful.
skiffle is the main course served on the wickedly delicious Merry
Skifflemas!, side dishes of rockabilly and beat music complete the
production. Big Boy Pete and Hilton revisit their roots with affection,
enthusiasm and humor, and in the end they’ve created a crackerjack of a
record. These fellows make wonderful music together, so let’s hope
their partnership continues and they’ll soon gift us with more rocking
fun. — Beverley Paterson
Q&A with Hilton Valentine
An Animal Loose in Athens
Flagpole sat down with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Hilton Valentine (original lead guitarist for The Animals) this week to talk about his new project, Skiffledog, a return to his earliest musical roots in the 1950s British skiffle scene. Recording at Chase Park Transduction with Jeff Walls (The Woggles, Bomber City, etc.) and Dave Barbe, and joined by his wife and auxiliary percussionist, Germaine, Valentine was eager to discuss his recording endeavors both new and old, and gamely tossed out a few stories about his younger, wilder years paling around with the likes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.
Flagpole: What brings you to Athens and Chase Park Transduction Studios?
Hilton Valentine: We wanted to record some stuff that we’d been playing for the last two or three years. I’ve got this band—we go out under the name of Skiffledog and under me own name. My wife Germaine thought it would be a good idea to ask Mr. Jeff Walls to produce it. We met Jeff with The Woggles up in Connecticut. He’s worked with the engineer Dave Barbe a few times, and they know each other very well, so it was a perfect opportunity to do these songs.
FP: How’s it coming? Are you happy with the studio and the album thus far?
HV: Very happy. It’s a really a good studio; it’s got a great sound. The people there know what they’re doing; they know about music, especially Dave. I’m really, really, really happy. We’ve got four or five songs mixed already.
FP: Can you give our readers a little background on skiffle?
HV: Back in the '50s in England, rock and roll was just startin’ to happen. There was one guy in particular, called Lonnie Donegan, who was playing skiffle music, and he came from a tradition which, I guess, you would call New Orleans Dixieland Jazz. And he was playin’ banjo in a band called the Ken Collier Band, so he was aware of people like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and he was playing and singing these songs, so he broke away and formed the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, playing this American folk music but pepped up quite a bit. And at that time for us, skiffle music and the rock and roll that was coming out—Little Richard, Elvis, Bill Haley—to us it was all the same. So, for the kids that were living in England at the time, the simplest thing to play was skiffle. You didn’t have to have electric guitars; we used washboards, tea chest bass. My first skiffle group had a little plastic saxophone with one note workin’. One guy played a comb and paper. We had a tin box for a drum. It was kinda like the jug bands in the States. And we’re now playing some of the songs that I played way back in the mid-'50s.
FP: Are you using any homemade instruments on this record?
HV: No, no. We’ve progressed [laughs]. We’ve advanced from the tin box to an actual snare drum played with brushes. And we’ve got a bass guitar, and Germaine plays washboard, eggs and tambourine.
FP: What kind of acts did you play with when you first started out?
HV: The first tour that The Animals played on was the Chuck Berry tour in England. His backing band was called King Size Taylor and the Dominoes. They did their own little set, and then Chuck came on. So, Chuck’s locked himself in his dressing room, and he won’t come out until he’s paid. Peter Grant, who ended up managing Led Zeppelin but at that time was the tour manager, is on his knees feeding pound notes under the door to Chuck. Backstage people were shoutin’ at King Size Taylor “One more! One more!” but meanwhile, the audience was shoutin’ “We Want Chuck! We Want Chuck!” Then they started wreckin’ the place. So, eventually he gets paid, he comes out, and the whole place goes wild. He finishes his show, walks back offstage, band’s still playin’, he’s straight off down the stairs, out the back door, into a car, and he’s away. The band’s still playin’, the audience is still shoutin’ “YEAH, MORE, MORE!” and we’re just in awe. But that came from his experience of playing and not gettin’ paid.
FP: In a lifetime of performing, is there one show or one moment that stands out as the biggest or most memorable?
HV: Coming to America at the time “House of the Rising Sun” was number one—that was a pretty big deal. To actually fly to New York and have this cavalcade of English sports cars driven into the city—it was quite an amazing thing—and, of course, meeting The Beatles. Of the whole British invasion of America, and the whole success of English bands, there was like The Stones, ourselves, The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer, Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers; these were all bands that had quite a lot of success, but above all of that was The Beatles. Nobody could touch them, and to meet them and hang out was a great thing. I really enjoyed that.
One night we were playin’ at this club, and Brian Epstein and The Beatles were there, and we were invited back to Brian Epstein’s place to have some more drinks. So, we’re there, drinkin’ and smokin’, doin’ the business, and there was this stuff called amyl nitrate. They were these vials wrapped up in bandages, and if somebody was having a heart attack they were snapped and poured down their nose and made the heart beat really fast to get the circulation going. So, as all good druggies do, you try everything. You got high for about 30 seconds, but that’s what was going around. They smelled like sweaty socks. Anyhow, at this point, all the amyl—we called them poppers—we were snortin’ em and gettin’ the rush, and there came a time when John Lennon shouts out “We got anymore of them poppers?” and Terry says “Nah, John, sorry, we’re out.”
So, Lennon just lifts up his arm, puts his nose in his armpit and goes “Oh, well [takes a big whiff].”
Jeff Walls: I remember you told me a great story one time about sittin’ in Mike Jeffries’ office and George Harrison callin’ on the phone.
HV: Yeah, I was in The Animals' office, and the secretary says, “Hilton, there’s a Jeff Chandler on the phone.” And I said “Jeff Chandler?” (he was an actor), so I thought “Jeff Chandler?” So, I answered the phone and heard “Hello, Hilton, it’s George here.” He wanted to know about an acid trip that I had. There were similarities between some acid trips he had taken, and what we had both experienced, and so he invited me down to his house, and we discussed the results.
FP: You’ve mentioned the Rolling Stones, too. Did you ever have any run-ins with them?
HV: Yeah, in fact, Brian Jones was the guy that first turned me on to acid. I don’t know if this is good stuff for your newspaper.
Germaine Valentine: So, Hilton carried on the tradition and turned Steve Winwood onto acid [laughs].
HV: And Jimi Hendrix. And Eric Burden. And Chas Chandler. It was my idea to call it The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Because of the book I was reading at the time: The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary [laughs].
GV: He was a bad influence [laughs].
HV: I’m alright now, though. I don’t do them things anymore. I just drink Newcastle Brown Ale.
FP: Do you think you’ll be back to play Athens at some point?
GV: Get your contacts to invite us!
HV: Yeah, I’d love to. Maybe Jeff can help us out with that—get us fixed up.
Rants & Faves
BBC Radio Scotland
"Genius Animals guitarist returns to roots in fine style. A fine selection of material which we'll be playing frequently in weeks and months to come. (Valentine's) own songs more than stand up to Mr Lennon's and Mr Leitch's."
magazine October 2004
I love my song on your
WITH MODERN GUITARS MAGAZINE Sept 2006
|"I’ve got Hilton’s new CD, It's Folk 'n' Skiffle, Mate!, and it’s real good. He went back to the tree's roots. That is what the album is all about. It’s got some Lonnie Donegan on it too. People seemed to have forgotten about the type of influence Donegan had. He was responsible for opening one of the gates to the past that America had lost and bringing it alive again. And really, that was the birth of the whole British thing."|
I love it - think it's absolutely brilliant!! Hope Hilton decides to record some more stuff.
~Tony D., England
Hey I thought
you'd be interested
to know that my son who is 10 asks me to play your CD every time he
in the car. He loves your rendition of Working Class Hero as much as I
do along with the River Tyne. You know you've got some great songs when
they can touch the soul of a 10 year old.
listening to the
Skiffledog CD and I
I think it is
The songs you composed yourself are of a really high standard and I
like your version of John Lennon's Working Class Hero. I hope you have
lots of luck with your CD and other people enjoy it as much as I have.
Hilton's CD is very appealing on quite a deep level. The music, guitar and vocals really get inside your head. It's a masterpiece, without a doubt.
~Jay W., Japan
your c.d. a few times. Great stuff! Your voice has matured well. My
critique would be I was dissappointed when it ended. It could have gone
on much longer. Ah! But there's a good reason for another one.
We were knocked
out and Floored
by your new Cd. Your Guitar playing was awesome as well as vocals!!!!
songs were outstanding!! The T-shirt was Great. It would be nice if you
could make it to Buffalo for a concert. PS:You still have the magic.