|Jimmy Page may have thought he was finished with Led Zeppelin after the release of the band’s last studio reissues on July 31, but the U.S. legal system has other plans.
A hearing is set for August 17 in Los Angeles federal court for a copyright-infringement lawsuit involving the Page-penned Zeppelin hit “Stairway to Heaven.” The lawsuit claims Page lifted the song’s iconic arpeggiated guitar intro from a 1968 instrumental called “Taurus” released by the Los Angeles band Spirit.
The complaint was brought by Francis Malofiy, who represents Spirit’s late guitarist Randy California, the writer of “Taurus.”
Malofiy notes that Page and his group opened for Spirit on Zeppelin’s first tour of the U.S. “There’s no doubt Jimmy Page appreciated Spirit on an emotional and musical level,” Malofiy told City News Service. “And, of course, Led Zeppelin has a unique history of lifting their songs from other sources.”
Malofiy was referring to settlement agreements and writing co-credits that Zeppelin granted for songs originally credited to Page and his bandmates, including “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song” and “Dazed and Confused.” The band also erroneously assumed “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” covered on their 1968 debut, was a traditional song and did not credit the writer, Anne Bredon, until 1990, at which time she received back payment of royalties.
Zeppelin, for their part, admit that they performed with Spirit and even included part of Spirit’s song “Fresh-Garbage” in a medley performed at concerts in 1968 and 1969, but they “deny each and every allegation" in the lawsuit, according to their legal team.
Randy California was well aware of the similarities between his song and Page’s. In the liner notes to a 1996 reissue of Spirit’s first album, he wrote, “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.”
Born Randy Craig Wolfe in Los Angeles, the guitarist was himself well integrated in the rock scene. He played with Jimi Hendrix in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames—the short-lived group Hendrix fronted in New York City before he found fame in England—and was christened “California” by Hendrix to distinguish him from another Randy in the group, whom Hendrix dubbed “Randy Texas.” California was invited to travel to England with Hendrix but as he was just 15, his parents refused to let him.
By 1967, now back in L.A., California cofounded Spirit. Though they never achieved widespread fame, Spirit had a minor hit with “I Got a Line on You” and were also known for their folk-rock ballad “Nature’s Way.” Though their music was based in rock, its stylistic diversity ranged from Brit-style pop tunes like “Uncle Jack” to rock-soul hybrids like “Dark Eyed Woman” and “Mr. Skin” to the dark progressive rock of “Mechanical World” and “Fresh-Garbage.”
Malofiy says that, ultimately, “Attribution is the most important thing. 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.”
Below, you can hear the opening lines to Spirit’s “Taurus” track and “Stairway to Heaven,” as well as an attempt to overlay them. Give them a listen and tell us if you think California deserves a co-writing credit.