Jimmy Page was the first big name to take the stand in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarism trial. According to Rolling Stone, the was an audible gasp throughout the courtroom when a ponytailed Page was called up to the witness stand, despite the fact that there was never any doubt the royal rock star would be called to testify.
Under intense questioning by Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing the estate of Spirit frontman Randy Wolfe, Jimmy Page, 72, defended himself against allegations that he plagiarized the famous opening chords to Led Zeppelin’s iconic 1971 song “Stairway to Heaven” after hearing the Spirit instrumental “Taurus,” which was written by Wolfe and released several years earlier and appeared on his band’s debut album.
Malofiy, who at one point during Page’s testimony referred to the icon as the “alleged songwriter” of “Stairway to Heaven,” repeatedly confronted Page on owning multiple albums by Spirit.
Jimmy Page admitted under oath that he recalled buying Spirit’s 1969 albums, The Family That Plays Together and Clear. But Jimmy expressed surprise over recently finding a live album and Spirit’s 1968 debut album on his personal collection. The 1968 album contains “Taurus” as its fourth track, as well as the song “Fresh-Garbage,” which Led Zeppelin frequently covered during the band’s early days.
In his testimony, Jimmy Page reiterated that he had never heard Spirit’s first album. He estimated that his personal music collection contains “4,329 LPs and 5,882 CDs” and explained that he has not listened to every track on every album that he owns. Page also said the Spirit album could have turned up in his home in a variety of ways.
“To be honest, I could’ve bought it or been given it,” Page testified.
Jimmy Page said he had never heard the song “Taurus” until his son-in-law told him about Internet buzz surrounding the similarities between “Stairway” and the Spirit song a few years ago.
“I don’t do the Internet, so he played it for me,” Jimmy told the court. “When I heard the orchestral part at the beginning, I knew I’d never heard it before … When it started, I was confused by the comparison … [I thought] ‘What’s this got to do with ‘Stairway’?”
Jimmy Page caused a few laughs in the courtroom with his animated answers. When Malofiy asked how long Led Zeppelin played the “Fresh-Garbage” riff during their live shows back in the day, Page responded, “I don’t know — I don’t have a stopwatch.” Jimmy also chimed in when Malofiy ludicrously stated that “[in his youth, Page discovered he] had a gift in his ability to play guitar.”
“Well, yeah,” Page deadpanned.
Jimmy Page said he didn’t recall Spirit being in the lineup of a December 26, 1969 concert in Denver which Zeppelin played ahead of the heavy rock band Vanilla Fudge, and he also claimed not to recall interviews in which he praised Spirit and their live shows. Jimmy was even presented with a retro audio recording of an interview in which he stated, “Spirit is a band I really love,” but he still claimed not to recall ever saying that.
“I don’t remember, it was long ago – could be distorted, too,” Jimmy said. “In those days, they still sort of jotted things down on notepads.”
According to Rolling Stone, Page relaxed a bit when music samples were played during his testimony. The rock legend nodded as acoustic versions of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” were played for the jury, and he even played air drums on the stand when a recording of Zeppelin’s “Fresh-Garbage” cover was played, going so far as to wink across the courtroom at fellow Led Zeppelin founder Robert Plant and breaking out a boogie move when a break was called.
While Jimmy Page maintains that he never heard “Taurus” until a few years ago, former Spirit bassist Mark Andes said he recalled seeing Zeppelin bandmates at festivals in the late ’60s when Spirit was playing. According to the Los Angeles Times, while he couldn’t name a particular Spirit show where “Taurus” was definitely played in front of Page and his co-founder Robert Plant, Andes recalled hanging out with Plant after a 1970 show and playing the billiard game snooker with him.
In one other note, when Jimmy Page arrived at the courtroom for the first day of testimony in the trial, he carried a guitar case, prompting speculation that he might play the intro to his band’s iconic tune as part of his testimony. Page didn’t end up playing, but there’s still more trial to come.
Take a look at the video below for more on Jimmy Page and the “Stairway to Heaven” civil trial.
[Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images]