“Stairway to Heaven” may be the staple of Led Zeppelin’s catalogue, but it’s also at the forefront of a legal battle that was 43 years in the making.
Last week the heirs of songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the band for copyright infringement, claiming they stole the music from Wolfe and participated in the “Falsification of Rock ‘N Roll History.”
The story goes like this: Wolfe (professionally known as Randy California) was a guitar prodigy discovered at the age of 15 by Jimmy Hendrix and who penned an album in the late 60s that reached Top 40 status. On that album was a 2 minute-plus instrumental called “Taurus,” featuring a distinctive (and what the plaintiffs call recognizable) guitar riff. When his band, Spirit, went on tour in 1968, an unknown group called Led Zeppelin opened for them, and well, you can guess where the story ends.
As legend has it (as Jimmy Page describes writing the song), Page locked himself away in a remote Wales village (in 1970) and came away with what is now known as one of the greatest songs in Rock ‘N Roll history. But Wolfe’s estate claims that Page is lying, and this wasn’t the first time Zeppelin had stolen music. The plaintiffs claim to have records of 17 songs that were plagiarized by Page, along with evidence that previous settlements were made between the band and other artists (the evidence being song credits).
They are seeking statutory damages, punitive damages, profits and a writing credit added to “Stairway.” They also say that funds obtained from the lawsuit will help buy instruments for needy kids.
If you’re wondering if they have a case, here’s a YouTube video of the song “Taurus.” Does it sound the same to you?