"Stairway to Heaven" Trial: Robert Plant Says He Can't Remember Seeing Spirit Perform

His band is accused of ripping off a riff of Spirit's "Taurus" for "Stairway to Heaven."
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Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page (left) and Robert Plant

Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant doesn't remember seeing Spirit perform at a U.K. club, according to his testimony on the stand in court Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. His band is accused of ripping off a riff of Spirit's "Taurus" for "Stairway to Heaven" and Plant's presence at the show is allegedly proof of access.

But the singer said he visited that club, Mother's in Birmingham, 40 to 50 times in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He described it as a clubhouse for local musicians to hang out, adding that other country clubs drew older crowds who only wanted to talk about plowing and horses. Plant said they hung out in the bar because it would've been rude to talk where the performers could see you and said he doesn't recall seeing Spirit play.

Spirit bassist Mark Andes says he met Plant at the show and played snooker with him afterward — but Plant has no memory of it. "I don't have a recollection of mostly anybody I've hung out with," he said, adding that in all the "hubbub and chaos" how would someone be expected to remember one guy he hasn't seen in 40 years.

Plant's attorney Peter Anderson asked the vocalist if he could read or write music — he can't. "I haven't learned yet," Plant said, laughing.

This was presumably to show that even if Plant had heard "Taurus," he wouldn't have been able to transcribe what he heard and give it to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Plant recalls the beginning of "Stairway" as just a couplet he had thought of that fit well with music Page had begun to write.

"It was quite a thing," Plant said, to "see it develop into something I couldn't imagine."

Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing the heir of the Spirit songwriter who is suing Led Zeppelin, pushed Plant on his memory during cross-examination. The rocker reminded the attorney that he and his wife were in a car crash that night leaving Mother's and they were both hospitalized with head injuries.

Malofiy also asked Plant about Zeppelin's early days playing cover songs and the singer's blunt response sparked a roar of laughter in the courtroom. "I don't find it a problem," Plant said. "I hear you going on about it a lot."

Earlier in the morning, one of Led Zeppelin's accountants estimated that Page has earned $615,000 in "Stairway" royalties since 2011 and Plant has earned $532,000, before taxes. That's a far cry from the millions Malofiy's expert estimated on Friday.

Page took the stand for a second time right before the lunch recess. His afternoon testimony centered on the creation of "Stairway" — which the guitarist described as "an ambitious piece." Any suggestions that weren't well received by Led Zeppelin members were quickly "jettisoned." So Page says he taught bits of his epic to bandmate John Paul Jones, to have an ally when pitching it to the rest of the group.

Anderson played for the jury the earliest surviving recording of "Stairway," which Page described as the musical equivalent of an artist's sketchbook. In a series of tapes, Page and Jones worked through different sections of what would become their iconic tune. The last tape included an early set of vocals from Page, who seemed a bit uncomfortable with hearing himself — but Page happily tapped along with the beat from the stand.

After hearing the earliest renditions, Anderson played the sound recording of "Stairway" for the jury — all eight minutes of it. Afterward he asked Page one last, simple question: is this the 1971 recording of "Stairway to Heaven" that was written by him and Plant? "Yes, it is," Page answered.

Malofiy's cross-examination was aggressive. It centered on trying to prove that Page lied about, or misremembered, where he initially wrote the song. Drawing more than half a dozen sustained objections, in about as many minutes, he grew visibly agitated. He nearly barked his final question: "if someone took the intro to 'Stairway to Heaven,' would you sue?" Anderson had barely finished standing to object when Klausner sustained it.

With that, the defense rested its case and Klausner sent the jury home early. In the latest move to frustrate reporters, his court staff cleared the room so the judge could talk to attorneys about the questions on the jury's verdict form — something which is typically public.

Klausner has yet to rule on Led Zeppelin's motion for judgment on a matter of law, which would take the decision out of the jury's hands and put it in his own.