Court listens very hard as Led Zeppelin deny stealing ‘Stairway To Heaven’

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page has demonstrated a deft touch at deflecting questions during a court hearing into whether he might have lifted some of the music in the rock band’s 1971 hit, ‘Stairway To Heaven’.
Court listens very hard as Led Zeppelin deny stealing ‘Stairway To Heaven’

Giving evidence in his defence in the copyright infringement case in Los Angeles, Page showed little interest in comparing his composition with the earlier instrumental work in question, ‘Taurus’, by the late Randy Wolfe, founder of the band Spirit.

Page was reluctant to compare the harmony, tempo or structure of the two songs, thwarting the lawyer representing Wolfe’s estate in the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, Page and singer Robert Plant, as well as several music companies.

“You want to step through it?” lawyer Francis Malofiy asked as he tried to get Page to discuss the Taurus sheet music.

“Not necessarily,” Page replied, sending a ripple of comic relief through the gallery during an otherwise dull day of evidence in the case.

Page, 72, had entered the courtroom carrying a guitar, but finished giving evidence without playing a note. The closest he came was during a break when he briefly struck a jamming pose and played air guitar and laughed with Plant in the courtroom.

Jurors in the packed Los Angeles federal court did get to hear the familiar opening chords of ‘Stairway’, but they came not from Page, but from an expert who said he found it strikingly similar to ‘Taurus’.

Guitar teacher and former member of Huffamoose, Kevin Hanson, played passages from both songs on acoustic guitar and said they are virtually identical.

When listening to videos of the two played simultaneously, he said there was nothing discordant about them: “To my ear, they sound like they are one piece of music,” he said.

On cross-examination, however, Mr Hanson, who is not a musicologist, said he can easily tell the songs apart.

Another plaintiff expert, Alexander Stewart, a music professor at the University of Vermont, said he found five categories in which both songs had significant similarities, including a descending chord progression, notes lasting the same duration, a series of arpeggios, and similar pairs of notes.

He said the descending chord progression and other elements have been found in songs dating back to the 1600s.

But he testified that, of more than 65 songs the defence has said have a similar construction, including ‘My Funny Valentine’, the Beatles’ ‘Michelle’ and ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ from the film Mary Poppins, none contained all five elements shared by ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway’.

“Not one of them came close,” Mr Stewart said, though he acknowledged on cross-examination that the notes in both songs did not all line up in the same places.

The plaintiffs wrapped up their case with estate trustee Michael Skidmore concluding his evidence, and a financial expert took to the witness box.

Mr Malofiy tried unsuccessfully to introduce evidence of a $60m (€53m) deal Led Zeppelin signed for the rights to its catalogue, but the judge would not allow it because it was from 2008 and extends beyond the statute of limitations.

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