Thursday, April 14, 2016


Yesterday The Guardian ran a full page 3 feature on a legal case being brought against Led Zeppelin by Mark Andes of the 60's Californian band Spirit, claiming that the opening riff to 'Stairway to Heaven'  was substantially similar to the opening of a Spirit track 'Taurus' penned by the group's guitarist, the late great Randy California. Behind this story is  a whole shipping container of worms.

Where to start? At the beginning.

I loved this record to bits. LOVED IT. I first heard a track from them on the very first rock sampler album 'The Rock Machine Turns You On' which was also brilliant. I still think its one of the finest records from the period, blending and interweaving rock and jazz vibes in the service of a fine cluster of beautiful songs. As you can see, the cover is also fab.  Ed Cassidy, the bald drummer, significantly older than the other four, was Randy C's stepfather, who played with many jazz greats and later in The Rising Sons with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Randy was in a band with Jimi Hendrix at one point. Mark Andes was a beautiful looking and fine bass player, with John Locke on keyboards and the talented singer Jay Ferguson who wrote most of the songs. The album came out of a period in late 1967 when the entire band, including wives, girlfriends, cats ans dogs, shared one big yellow house in Topanga Canyon.

Image result for spirit band
I was incredibly fortunate to see the band live on their first (and only?) European tour. According to an article in the third issue of the underground paper Friends (dated 25th March 1970) they certainly played at The Lyceum in London (1st Feb), The Speakeasy (2nd Feb), Hornsey [College of Art ?] on the 3rd. I saw them at one of those first two gigs and natch they were tremendous. They'd come from California for crying out loud. They were magic.

Lets get back to 'Taurus' and the Zeps. Taurus was recorded on the 10th November 1967; Stairway to Heaven, one of the most studied tracks in the rock canon,
'originated in 1970 when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were spending time at Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, following Led Zeppelin's fifth American concert tour. According to Page, he wrote the music "over a long period, the first part coming at Bron-Yr-Aur one night.' [Wikipedia]
 Image result for spirit band

The bands knew each other and played on the same bill on several occasions. Using the Zeps own Concert database, those occasions began at the Denver Auditorium Arena (December 26th 1968). This was the most important gig in the sense that it was Led Zepppelin's first ever US gig, supporting Vanilla Fudge and Spirit. Check out the full story + posters and tickets here:

The other dates were the Atlanta International Pop Festival (July 5th 1969) and the Seattle Pop Festival (25th-27th July 1969). You can check those out on the same site.

Wikipedia says the following:
In December, they appeared at the Denver Auditorium with support band Led Zeppelin,[2] who soon after incorporated parts of Spirit's song "Fresh Garbage" in an extended medley during their early 1969 concerts. Spirit also appeared with Led Zeppelin at two outdoor music festivals in July 1969.
Jimmy Page's use of a theremin has been attributed to his seeing Randy California use one that he had mounted to his amplifier;[3] and Guitar World magazine stated "California's most enduring legacy may well be the fingerpicked acoustic theme of the song 'Taurus', which Jimmy Page lifted virtually note for note for the introduction to 'Stairway to Heaven'."[4]
Page may have reworked a riff from "Taurus" while composing "Stairway to Heaven"; The Independent remarked upon the similarity in 1997.[5]
In 2014, Mark Andes, and a trust acting on behalf of Randy California, filed a copyright infringement suit against Led Zeppelin in an attempt to obtain a writing credit for "Stairway to Heaven".[6][7] Page denies copying "Taurus".[8]
In relation to the 2014 legal suit, the Daily Mail reported that:
'In 2008, Conde Nast's Portfolio magazine estimated that the song had earned at least $525 million dollars in royalties and record sales. It appears on America's third biggest-selling album of all time, Led Zeppelin IV.
'Randy California's family said the reason they waited so long to take legal action was because they could never afford it. They are seeking an injunction to block the re-release of Led Zepellin IV in deluxe, remastered vinyl and CD editions, planned for this June, while they file a copyright infringement lawsuit.
'U.S. lawyer Francis Alexander Molofiy, who is handling the case, said: 'The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven. It's been a long time coming.'
'And, of course, there's the money. California drowned in 1997 while rescuing his son from a rip current while on holiday in Hawaii and the royalties from his music career are now collected by a trust. The beneficiary of that trust is the Randy California Project in Ventura County, California, which teachers youngsters music. Led Zeppelin would not comment on the case.'
SO ARE THE TWO TRACKS SIMILAR? You can check this out by watching two YouTube videos of guys playing the riffs back to back. The first one is a guitar-playing lawyer. There's also a BBC video where Jimmy P puts the vinyl on and talks through the making and composition of 'Stairway to Heaven'. All on the same page here 

PREVIOUS FORM: Led Zeppelin and Plant and Page in particular have also been involved in other legal disputes over credits and copyrights. According to The Guardian piece: 
'Legal challenges have resulted in writing credits being added to 'Whole Lotta Love', 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You', 'The Lemon Song' and 'Dazed and Confused'.

Turning to another source TURN ME ON DEAD MAN and this interesting and well-written essay: LED ZEPPELIN: PLAGIARISM? which reads in part:
'Allegations of plagiarism against Led Zeppelin have been around since the early days of the band, but the internet has become an echo chamber for misinformation on this issue.
'My main purpose in writing “Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism?” was that I wanted to put any and all claims of plagiarism against Led Zeppelin’s music to the test. I listened to the tracks that Led Zeppelin was accused of stealing from and tried to make an impartial assessment of whether or not Led Zeppelin’s music constituted original work. I tried to identify those instances where they borrowed heavily enough from their influences to warrant crediting the source. My general conclusion was that Led Zeppelin drew on an eclectic array of sources to produce a large body of original and vital music, but that in several instances they were so close to their influence that they should have given them songwriting credit.
'Led Zeppelin did, in fact, give credit where credit was due for some tracks (“You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and a half-hearted attempt with “Boogie with Stu”), but not in all cases. To my ears, 13 of Led Zeppelin’s songs should have some sort of songwriting credit change (that is, eight in addition to the five that have already been changed due to the threat of legal action).
 Image result for Jake Holmes
'Because Led Zeppelin almost always brought a substantial amount of originality to their work, in most cases it would be fair to simply add the influence’s name to Led Zeppelin’s original credits, but “Dazed and Confused” (original by Jake Holmes) and “Boogie with Stu” (“Ooh My Head” by Ritchie Valens) are merely cover versions and the songwriting credits should be changed entirely to reflect that.
 'The list below contains the instances where songwriting credits should be changed, and those that have already been changed on recent Led Zeppelin reissues are marked with an asterisk.
Led Zeppelin TitleYearCredit due toTitle

Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You1969Anne BredonBabe, I’m Gonna Leave You (1960) * 

Dazed and Confused1969Jake HolmesDazed and Confused (1967) *

Black Mountain Side1969Bert janschBlackwaterside  (1966)

How Many More Times1969Howlin’ WolfNo Place to Go (1959)

How Many More Times1969The YardbirdsSmokestack Lightnin’ (1965)

Whole Lotta Love1969Willie DixonYou Need Love (1962) *

The Lemon Song1969Howlin’ WolfKilling Floor (1966) *

Bring It On Home1970Sonny Boy WilliamsonBring It On Home (1963) *

Hats Off to (Roy) Harper1970Bukka WhiteShake ‘Em On Down (1937)

Hats Off to (Roy) Harper1970Oscar WoodsThe Lone Wolf Blues (1936)

Since I’ve Been loving You1970Moby GrapeNever (1968)

Stairway to Heaven1971SpiritTaurus (1968)

Custard Pie1975Sleepy John EstesDrop Down Mama (1935)

Custard Pie1975Blind Boy FullerI Want Some of Your Pie (1940)

In My Time of Dying1975Josh WhiteJesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed (1933)

Boogie With Stu1975Ritchie ValensOoh My Head (1959)

I have my old school mate Nick Barnett to thank for giving me this album on my 50th birthday. 'Led Astray: The Folk and Blues Roots of Page & Plant' [Connoisseur Collection/1999] is a 16-track of predominantly blues and folk tracks. Only five of these feature on the list above.

The sleeve notes by  Lee Connolly (1999) begin as follows: 

'During the 1960s, blues music gained huge popularity in the UK  due to the 'exposure' given to it by luminaries  such as the Rolling Stones, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Animals, whereby straight-forward covers that had proliferated during the early part of the decade through the likes of Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner were supplanted by 'arrangements' of the music  made by the new young white bands. 

Their rock/pop hybrid version of the blues brought the genre  into the mainstream and for a time this widened interest in the original artists. hence visits to Europe by the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson John lee Hooker and many others Led Zeppelin being borne out of the (New) Yardbirds grew out of that situation.  

The Yardbirds themselves having  backed Sonny Boy Williamson on tour and covered his 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' for example, and dived  straight into a wealth of old blues songs to provide the backdrop  to their 'heavy' sound.  Nothing new in that but  Zeppelin were infinitely more successful in 'arranging ' those old songs into a form that the then mainstream audience wanted to access, particularly during the early part of their career This album brings you the original versions of some of the songs either covered or arranged, certainly popularised by Led Zeppelin, many of which stemmed from early 20th century blues,'

IN THE CURRENT CASE it seems that wheels grind slowly. The Guardian piece says:

'US judge Gary Klausner ruled that a jury could find "substantial" similarity between the first two minutes of 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Taurus' which he called "arguably the most recognisable and important segments" of the songs.

'In the suit filed, the surviving members of led Zeppelin deny they shared a stage with or even had discussions with spirit's members when the bands toured the festival circuit in the 60s. However Spirit's surviving members remember things differently, recalling backstage conversations between the bands and performing after each other at festivals.'

Back in 1991, Randy California gave an interview in which he said that 'Led Zeppelin used to come up and sit in the front row of all [Spirit's] shows and became friends."

The beat goes on.

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