"Stairway to Heaven" Trial: Jimmy Page Gets Quizzed on Music Vocabulary

The Led Zeppelin bandmember finishes his testimony and the court warns the plaintiff's attorney about wasting time.
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Jimmy Page

Before the jury entered court Thursday morning, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page listened to a sound recording of Spirit's "Taurus" — the song he's accused of copying for "Stairway to Heaven." Attorney Francis Malofiy, who represents the man suing Page, then tried to question the rocker about the similarity between the two recordings, which isn't the legal issue at hand.

After multiple sustained objections, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner had enough. "Nobody cares," he said. "It's not an issue in this case."

Michael Skidmore, who manages Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe's estate, is suing Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. Because pre-1972 sound recordings aren't protected by federal copyright, the only relevant work is the sheet music filed with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Skidmore's attorney asked the court to reconsider allowing the song to be played. The jury won't hear it, but Klausner allowed Page to listen so he could answer questions — although it didn't prove fruitful.

What followed was largely Malofiy quizzing Page on musical vocabulary and the first notes of "Stairway." Then the attorney played "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins and asked Page whether or not he was familiar with the tune and if it inspired "Stairway" — which Malofiy claims the guitarist had said previously. Klausner again tired quickly of the apparently frivolous questions and snapped, "You've wasted a huge amount of time."

As attorneys for both sides squabbled about whether exhibits were shared beforehand, the judge admonished the lack of professionalism in discovery in this case — at one point he called it "abominable."

Malofiy also asked Page about the origins of "Stairway," challenging the long-held lore that it was written by Page and Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant at Headley Grange. Page referred to an old interview in which he said he came up with the song at a cabin in the Welsh mountains as a "glitch," and insisted it wasn't true.

Later, former Spirit bassist Larry "Fuzzy" Knight took the stand and talked about that one time he met Page at an afterparty in 1973. The event followed a Spirit show, but was held in an unnamed off-site location. Knight says he talked to Page for "a minute or so" and it was mostly musician-to-musician banter.

He recalled Page saying something along the lines of "great show" and said he doesn't remember seeing the guitarist talk to any other Spirit members.

"I don't believe I did," Knight said. "Everybody was talking to everybody. That's what you do at parties." With that, Malofiy ended his morning arguments five minutes early. He didn't say who will testify this afternoon. Plant has yet to take the stand.

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