Bagpipes In Modern Music

By Raquel Ross

Though the uses of the bagpipe are most often limited to more traditional settings and music steeped in heritage, the unique sound has been known to drift into the sensuous stylings of jazz, the crashing beats of rock, and it has even made some appearances in today’s famously popular rap and hip-hop! In this section, we will focus on the bagpipe’s use in the latter part of the 20th century into music occurring today in the 21st century in three musical genres.


We begin with jazz and appropriately turn our attention to Rufus Harley—a Raleigh-born musician who is credited with being the very first to incorporate the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe into the sounds of jazz. The late Harley was of African and Cherokee descent with surprisingly no Irish or Scottish in his blood at all! And though the musician was also proficient in the trumpet, saxophone, and flute (among others), it was the bagpipes that he played primarily and passionately. Some of his more memorable albums include:

  • Bagpipe Blues (1966)
  • Scotch & Soul (1967)
  • A Tribute to Courage (1968)
  • Kings/Queens (1970)

Because of his efforts, he was even recognized in a documentary dedicated to the piper in the 2008 title, Pipes of Peace. Below is a song called “Sunny” from his A Tribute to Courage album. The infusion of bagpipe and jazz trio is a blend that seems as though was made to go together.


Next we move to the provocative genre of rock and roll which yields a nearly endless list of songs and artists that have adopted the celtic sound. Among these are Paul McCartney, Ron Wilson (in the track “Louie, Louie”), Peter Gabriel, Sting, Korn, Tears for Fears, Flogging Molly, and The White Stripes, just to name a few! The list truly does go on and on, however, none of these songs are quite as prolific as AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”. The beloved Australian band’s 1975 album T.N.T. showcased the song as its first track and has received rave reviews ever since. The song has been celebrated in Top 10 lists as well as movies (School of Rock, 2003) and even videogames (Guitar Hero, Rock Band).

In the music video, lead vocalist Bon Scott can be seen alternating singing the main melodic part and playing the instrument on what seems to be a parade float. He is accompanied by three other highland pipe performers, all dressed traditionally.


Lastly, we examine a more current example of convergence—the combination of rap and bagpipe. When speaking of the genre of rap, it’s hard to do so without mentioning the renowned Eminem. Having clenched 13 Grammy’s in his 12-year career, Eminem, or Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is one of the highest rated performers in musical history.

In his sixth studio album, Relapse (2009), Eminem features the instrument’s unique sound in the song “Bagpipes from Baghdad”. Unlike the rock or jazz example, in this song the bagpipe plays a repeated ostinato for the song’s duration, making it an embedded part of the sound and an integral part of the song.

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