We toyed with the idea of making Bon Scott the latest installment of our occasional Famous Pipers series. However, Bon himself would never have described himself as a piper so why should we? Today, though, we wish to pay tribute to the Aussie rocker who would have turned 75 this month had he not died in 1980 from acute alcohol poisoning, aged 33.
Why? Well, in 1975, Bon and his band, AC/DC, brought the great highland bagpipe to a larger – and younger – audience with a song that may not have had the same impact as the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ Amazing Grace two years earlier, but arguably inspired more people to take up the instrument. The inclusion of the instrument on It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll) made it ‘cool’ immediately. One piper who was a huge fan of AC/DC was the late Gordon Duncan who arranged the band’s rousing Thunderstruck oonto the pipes and included it in his 2003 album of the same name. Gordon’s setting* has now become well established in the repertoire of many pipers.
As the once hugely influential music magazine NME put it, It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll) ist he ultimate Bon Scott song. The song was AC/DC’s breakthrough record and transformed the band from being an unknown Australian band into a legendary global rock juggernaut. It would be another two years before the great highland bagpipe was heard in a rock or pop record. That came with Wings’ nauseating Mull of Kintyre, which was everywhere in 1977.
The inclusion of the pipes on It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll) came about thanks to the record’s producer, George Young – brother of the band’s Angus and Malcolm. During the sessions for the band’s second album, T.N.T. George learned that Bon had been in a pipe band in his youth and suggested he play something for the song. Bon agreed – without telling George that he’d never played the instrument in his life, as he’d been a drummer in the pipe band (the Fremantle Scots Pipe Band)! However, he got hold of a set of pipes and quickly learned loosely how to play them. ItBon doesn’t play a tune on the record; it’s really nothing more than a three or four-note groove. Watch the video:
Is there a better rock song than It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll?
Not in our book.
Ronald Belford Scott was born in 1946 in Forfar in Scotland, and spent his early years in nearby Kirriemuir. He moved to Australia with his family in 1952 at the age of six, living near Melbourne for a few years before settling in Fremantle in Western Australia.
The nickname ‘Bon’ was acquired shortly after starting school in Australia when his classmates played on the phrase, ‘Bonnie Scotland’.
Bon’s ashes are interred at Fremantle Cemetery. A statue was unveiled in the city in 2008. In 2016 a statue of Bon was unveiled in Kirriemuir [pictured]. Bonfest, a three-day rock festival celebrating Bon has been held in the Angus town for a decade.
Bon Scott, we salute you.