Jimmy Page says he had never heard the Spirit song he is accused of copying until he was sued for allegedly plagiarizing it.
Speaking in court last week, the Led Zeppelin guitarist stood by his claim that the opening to his classic track “Stairway to Heaven” did not copy a signature guitar passage from Spirit’s song “Taurus,” which appeared on the American group’s self-titled 1968 debut album.
Page and Led Zeppelin are being sued by the trust of Spirit guitarist Randy California, who wrote the song.
“Prior to hearing a recording of ‘Taurus’ in 2014 in connection with this matter, I have never heard ‘Taurus’ or even heard of it,” Page declared. “I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ until 2014.”
Page described the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven” as including ”a descending chromatic line chord progression and arpeggios, over which [is] played an ascending line. I consider descending chromatic lines and arpeggiated chords basic skills learned by any student of the guitar. Certainly, as a guitarist, I was aware of descending chromatic lines and arpeggios long before 1968.”
Although Led Zeppelin and Spirit shared stages on several occasions in the late Sixties, Page says, “I do not recall ever seeing Spirit perform live. Again, though, I am absolutely certain I never heard them, or anyone else, perform ‘Taurus.’”
Page also admitted to having a copy of the Spirit debut album in his record collection but claimed to “not know how or when it got there.” “It may well have been left by a guest,” he states. “I doubt it was there for long, since I never noticed it before. But, again, I know I did not hear Taurus until 2014.”
California, the composer of “Taurus,” died in 1997. Born Randy Wolfe in Los Angeles, he received his stage name “Randy California” from Jimi Hendrix while performing with him in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Hendrix gave Wolfe the name to distinguish him from band member Randy Palmer, who hailed from Texas and who Hendrix subsequently dubbed “Randy Texas.”
If California’s estate wins, the stakes could be large. “Stairway to Heaven” is estimated to be worth more than $560 million.
Led Zeppelin is seeking to have the case dismissed by arguing that California’s estate is not able to bring the lawsuit. California wrote “Taurus” as a writer for hire with Hollenbeck Music, which owns the copyright.
If that fails, the group will argue that California waived his claim in 1991 when he was asked about the similarity during an interview. “If they wanted to use [‘Taurus’] that’s fine,” California said at the time. “I’ll let them have the beginning of ‘Taurus’ for their song without a lawsuit.”
However, his attitude toward the situation seems to have hardened somewhat by 1997, when California told Listener magazine that “Stairway to Heaven” “was a ripoff” of “Taurus.” The guitarist drowned that same year while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. He was 45.
In the clip below, Page tells BBC News how he came to write “Stairway to Heaven.” The video below it offers a comparison of “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.”