Led Zeppelin Defense Rests in ‘Stairway’ Trial

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — On the last day of defense witnesses, Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant took the stand Tuesday to testify in the high-profile trial over whether “Stairway to Heaven” infringes the copyright of a song from the same era.
     Dressed in a dark suit, Plant took the stand shortly before 11 a.m. to defend against the claims of former rock journalist Michael Skidmore, who alleges that the two-minute and 14-second introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” is lifted from part of an instrumental called “Taurus,” recorded by the band Spirit.
     Skidmore claims that Page and Plant heard “Taurus” before they created “Stairway to Heaven” at the Headley Grange rehearsal residence in Hampshire, England prior to releasing it on their untitled 1971 album, better known as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
     According to Skidmore, Led Zeppelin played several U.S. shows with Spirit in the late 1960s and were admirers of the band, covering another Spirit song called “Fresh Garbage” as part of a medley the band played live.
     Plant, whose long curly hair was tied back, told his attorney Peter Anderson during cross-examination that he had bought a compilation album that contained “Fresh Garbage” and said that the band had used a riff from the song in live shows.
     But he told jurors that he had never owned a Spirit album and did not recall seeing the band live.
     The court has also heard testimony from former Spirit band members who claimed that they met Plant during a show at the Mothers Club in Birmingham in early 1970 and had played snooker with him after.
     But Plant said that he had no recollection of meeting or even watching the band at a club he said he frequented regularly with his wife and late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who he affectionately called “Bonzo.”
     “I can’t actually recall Spirit or anyone playing there with the passing of time,” Plant said.
     The music legend’s fuzzy memory could be attributable to a car accident that happened after he left the club.
     According to a 1970 report from the British music newspaper Melody Maker, Plant’s Jaguar collided with a mini-van after he left the show in Birmingham and Plant was admitted to hospital with a “badly cut face and smashed teeth.”
     Plant was even more graphic, telling the court that he had a windshield “buried” in his head.
     The singer-songwriter spoke at length about the creation of one of the band’s most famous songs, describing how he had etched the beginnings of the lyrics during a fireside jam session with Page at Headley Grange, where the band worked on several other songs including “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Battle of Evermore.”
     Plant told Anderson that he started the lyrics off with a “little couplet.”
     When Anderson asked Plant what the couplet was Plant replied, “Oh, gosh” before reciting the famous lyrics that open “Stairway to Heaven.”
     “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for,” Plant said.
     During several spiky exchanges during cross-examination, Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy asked Plant if Led Zeppelin had “lifted” from other artists when creating their music.
     “Can you explain what that really means?” Plant replied before testifying that there was “cross-pollination” in modern pop and rock music that allowed artists such as Little Richard and The Beatles to flourish.
     Plant elicited a big laugh from the packed courtroom when Malofiy asked him if Led Zeppelin had covered other bands in its early days.
     “I don’t find that a problem. He keeps going on about it a lot,” Plant said.
     Jimmy Page also took the stand for the second time to testify for the defense and explain how he had created “Stairway to Heaven.” He said that he had created a later guitar part first – the so-called “fanfare” section of the song that bridges his guitar solo.
     At the tail-end of his testimony, the defense played 46-year-old rehearsal tapes from the Headley Grange sessions, which included a guitar part that Page later discarded.
     John Paul Jones accompanies Page on the electric piano on the tapes. A later version included Plant but not drummer John Bonham. The lyrics were not fully formed on the tape, with Plant’s “It makes me wonder” line conspicuously absent.
     Plant also sings the song in a different key to the version the band is famous for. The frontman raised his eyebrows as this rawer version of his vocals filled the courtroom.
     After playing the jury the final version of the song, the defense rested its case. Jurors will return on Wednesday for closing arguments before beginning deliberations.
     Skidmore has brought his claims as trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust. Randy Wolfe, better known by the nickname Randy California, wrote “Taurus” in 1967 and it appeared on Spirit’s debut album the following year.
     By some estimates, “Stairway to Heaven” is worth $562 million in publishing royalties and record sales.
     Skidmore’s expert witness Michael Einhorn testified on Friday that a catalog of 87 songs, including “Stairway to Heaven,” had earned over $58.5 million since a statutory period that began in the summer of 2011 and that the song alone had netted the music duo millions of dollars.
     But the defendants put on a rebuttal witness on Tuesday, English accountant Tim Gardner who had handled accounts for Led Zeppelin’s business management company Joan Hudson & Co.
     Gardner testified that Page’s gross revenues from “Stairway to Heaven” before tax were $615,000. Plant’s were $532,000, according to Gardner.
     Plant and Page on Monday filed court papers asking a judge rather than a jury to decide the case, arguing Skidmore did not prove multiple elements of his case before resting last week.
     Malofiy told Courthouse News that U.S. District Judge Robert Gary Klausner had denied the duo’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.

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