Faces & names: ‘Stairway to Heaven’ riff lands Led Zeppelin in court
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold — and a lawyer who’s sure Led Zeppelin ripped off a classic riff from their client.
That’s the belated allegation put forth from representatives of the estate of Randy California, the guitarist for the proto-classic-rock band Spirit. A forthcoming copyright infringement lawsuit claims that Spirit’s old showmates Led Zeppelin stole much of the classic intro riff to “Stairway To Heaven” from Spirit’s 1968 track “Taurus.”
The suit aims to stop the re-
release of Zeppelin albums containing the song, and to give California (who died in 1997) a co-writing credit on the tune.
Obviously, the suit won’t do much to dislodge the song from the Zeppelin canon. California never publicly complained about the alleged swipe for most of his life, and Zeppelin’s blues-rock tradition has a long history of elaborating and riffing on other melodies and song ideas.
But according to Bloomberg Businessweek, in 1997 California told “Listener” magazine that “I’d say it was a ripoff. ... And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said, ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”
A representative for Warner Music told the magazine that the label would not comment on the suit, but Mark Andes, Spirit’s founding bassist said that “it is fairly blatant, and note for note. ... It would just be nice if the Led Zeppelin guys gave Randy a little nod. That would be lovely.”