The Led Zeppelin rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven” was an original composition by the band and owed nothing to a 1968 instrumental that never dented the music charts, an attorney for band leaders Jimmy Page and Robert Plant said Tuesday.
But in his opening statement in trial of a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Page and Plant, an attorney for the estate of Randy California – – singer-songwriter of the long-defunct Los Angeles band Spirit — said the opening guitar riff of “Stairway” was lifted from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental “Taurus.”
“This case can be summarized in six words: Give credit where credit is due,” said the estate’s attorney, Francis Malofiy.
During his 30-minute opening statement in front of a packed downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Malofiy said the jury can look at the lawsuit “almost like a taste test. Do these things taste the same? Do these things sound the same?”
Malofiy played for the jury a recording of the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” played by a musicologist on guitar, saying the notes were not original, but a “lifted composition.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of the trust of the late Randy Craig Wolfe, known as Randy California. Wolfe drowned in 1997 off the coast of Hawaii.
In addition to Page and Plant, the lawsuit also names three companies involved in the Led Zeppelin catalog.
Malofiy alleges in court papers that Page first heard key guitar parts later used in “Stairway” when Spirit performed “Taurus” on stage when they headlined over Zeppelin on the British band’s first United States tour in 1968.
In his opening statement, however, defense attorney Peter Anderson told jurors that Page and Plant were not familiar with the band Spirit or its output, and Page — Led Zeppelin’s guitarist — had no recollection of ever hearing the song “Taurus.”
Anderson played for the jury the sound recording of the first two minutes and 14 seconds of “Stairway.” The 72-year-old Page, sitting in court with Plant, 67, nodded his head along with the music.
“‘Stairway to Heaven,’ was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and them alone, period,” Anderson said.
The attorney said that although Page has acknowledged owning the 1968 Spirit album that contained the instrumental at the center of the case, “There’s no evidence that because he has an album now, it doesn’t mean he had it 45 years ago.”
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled in April that the jury trial would last less than a week and attorneys would have no more than 10 hours per side to present evidence.
The suit alleges that Led Zeppelin has “a deep-rooted history of lifting compositions from blues artists and other songwriters who they have repeatedly failed to credit.”
In the 1970s, the band made settlement agreements and granted writing co- credits to other artists for several songs originally credited to Page, including “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song” and “Dazed and Confused.”
“Attribution is the most important thing,” Malofiy recently told City News Service. “What we want is for credit to be given where it’s due. I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin, but in this situation, we want credit for Randy.”
In the liner notes to a 1996 reissue of Spirit’s first album, Wolfe stated that “people always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus,’ which was released two years earlier. … They opened up for us on their first American tour.”
In a six-page declaration filed with the court, Page said he didn’t hear, or had even heard of the 2-minute, 37-second “Taurus’ until two years ago.
“I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ until 2014,” the 72-year-old guitarist said, adding that he has no memory of seeing Spirit perform in concert.
—City News Service
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