Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant testifies as defence rests in Stairway trial
Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant has told a court hearing the Stairway to Heaven copyright dispute that he has a dim memory of the time it was written. He said he could not remember meeting the band Spirit, who claim the band stole their guitar riff for Stairway to Heaven in the 1970s. “I don’t have a recollection of almost anyone I’ve hung out with,” Plant said, causing roars of laughter in the court.
The case was brought on behalf of Spirit’s late guitarist, Randy Wolfe.
His estate claims the opening riff of the 1968 song Taurus is fundamentally the same as the iconic opening bars of Stairway to Heaven. Defence lawyers argue the chord progression in question is very common and has been in use for more than 300 years.
The prosecution has argued Led Zeppelin became familiar with Spirit’s song after the two bands played on the same bill in Plant’s hometown at the Birmingham club Mother’s in 1970. Spirit’s bassist Mark Andes testified last week he met Plant at the show and played snooker with him afterward.
Plant insisted he had no memory of night, saying that in all the “hubbub and chaos” it would be hard to remember a one-off meeting 40 years ago. “I can’t actually recall Spirit or anyone playing there with the passing of time,” he said.
Plant partially attributed his lack of memory to a bad car crash on his way home from the club. Both he and his wife suffered head injuries in the accident, he told the court, after the windshield of his Jaguar was left “buried” in his face.
The singer-songwriter also spoke at length about the creation of Stairway to Heaven.
He reiterated the assertions made by his bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones that the song began at the country estate Headley Grange and not the Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur, contradicting decades of Led Zeppelin mythology.
“One evening, Jimmy Page and I sat by the fire going over bits and pieces,” Plant testified, explaining the band had worked on several other songs that night, including Misty Mountain Hop and Battle of Evermore. He recalled when guitarist Jimmy Page played the introduction to the song, things had started “rolling pretty fast”.
“It was quite a thing,” Plant said, to “see it develop into something I couldn’t imagine”.
He retired to another room to work on the lyrics, inspired by the “pastoral areas of Britain I love”, and initially came up with a “little couplet” to open the song. When asked what the couplet was, Plant replied “Oh, gosh” before half-singing, half-speaking the lyrics: “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”
Plant’s lawyer, Peter Anderson, also asked the vocalist whether he could read or write music. “I haven’t learned yet,” he replied laughing – the insinuation being that, even if he had wanted to copy Taurus, he could not have transcribed the guitar riff and given it to Jimmy Page.
Page later took the stand himself, and spoke further about the creation of Stairway, which he described as “an ambitious piece”. Jurors listened to demo recordings of the song, and heard Page describe how he worked to create a song that built from the gentle acoustic opening to a thrilling electric guitar solo.
The tapes showed how the song developed, including a guitar part that Page later discarded. The lyrics were not fully formed, with Plant’s hook, “it makes me wonder” notably absent.
The song was also in a different key – and Plant screwed up his face when the court heard a strained, poorly-pitched note in the final tape. After playing the nascent recordings, Anderson aired the full, finished, eight-minute version of Stairway to Heaven for the jury.
Afterwards he asked Page one simple question: Is this Stairway to Heaven, as written by Page and Plant? “Yes, it is,” Page answered. With that, the defence rested their case. The jury is expected to start their deliberations on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Page and Plant had previously asked Judge R Gary Klausner to rule on the case without sending it to the jury, but he refused the request.