The Song Remains the Same: If the Spirit Moves Ya

If the Spirit Moves Ya

Led Zeppelin is being sued for copyright infringement over "Stairway to Heaven," by the founding bassist of Spirit, an obscure '60's band that opened for Led Zeppelin in 1968-69. Opening notes were lifted from "Taurus," a relatively unknown song Spirit often played. Among the more interesting aspects of this law suit is that Spirit has only waited 46 years to cry foul and that the plaintiff has been dead since 1997 (the suit is being brought by the trust for Spirit's founder Randy California). 

This isn't the first time that Led Zep has been sued for ripping off riffs. They were sued over "Whole Lotta Love" and were forced to change the writing credits and share subsequent royalties. The trust representing Randy California estimates that "Stairway to Heaven" has raked in something like $562 million, which is enough money to raise the dead, if not Jerry Garcia himself.

Pictured here is Jimmy Page, Led Zep's lead guitarist and the culprit in the Spirit suit. I've captured him here during the ill-fated tour of 1977– Led Zeppelin's last American tour– which began with Jimmy fighting heroin addiction and ended prematurely at the end of July with the tragic death of Robert Plant's 5-year-old son Karac. I picked up the tour in Atlanta, journeyed to Tampa, and was on the way to New Orleans when tragedy struck and the tour was cancelled. Thus, my photos of this tour are among the most important that I shot during my entire career.

Oh, I also had legal wranglings with Spirit: In 1970 we booked them to play a gig at the Sports Arena in Atlanta and they failed to show. We filed suit with the Musicians Union– who rarely sided with promoters against talent– and we lost. I'm thinking that if Spirit wins the suit against Zeppelin, maybe I'll sue Spirit and get my money back.

If Spirit can wait 46 years to sue over infringement, I don't see why I can't file a suit for non-performance after only a mere 44 years.

Which brings me to one final point: Play "Taurus" by Spirit, then play "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin– if you haven't remembered it note by note by now– and tell me if you think the similarities in the opening phrases are worth a chunk out of $562 million. Should this law suit prevail, then it has to start an avalanche of similar suits for every recording artist borrowed from somebody before them and somewhere down in Mississippi there's an old bluesman that everybody owes.

Yeah, I'm thinkin' I'm-a gonna dust off my law school diploma and sue everybody from the Beatles to the Stones to Michael Jackson to Nicki Minaj in the name of the Trust representing Blind Lemon Jefferson.

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