A week into the copyright trial over the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven,” the band’s singer took the stand to testify on Tuesday.
Plant’s appearance followed earlier testimony by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page — who was called back to the stand on Tuesday — and bassist John Paul Jones.
Read on for highlights from Robert Plant’s testimony.
Plant revealed the inspiration for his “Stairway to Heaven” lyrics. Under questioning Tuesday, the vocalist recalled the origin of “Stairway to Heaven,” saying that the song was created at rehearsal and recording venue Headley Grange — and not the remote Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur, which popular Zeppelin mythology often holds. “I sat with Jimmy by the fire and he began playing. I had a little couplet that fitted into what he was playing,” Plant testified.
Asked about the opening lyrics of the song, Plant said, “I was trying to bring in the beauty and remoteness of pastoral Britain.”
If you ever meet Robert Plant, don’t expect him to remember you. While Plant displayed his ability to recall his songwriting inspiration from 45 years ago, he admitted that he’s not too good with remembering who he’s encountered, telling the court, “I’ve no recollection of mostly anybody I’ve ever hung out with.”
Another thing Plant doesn’t recall: ever seeing Spirit. Despite earlier testimony that Plant was in attendance at a 1970 concert by Spirit — the group Zeppelin is accused of ripping off — at Mother’s Club in Birmingham, England, Plant testified that he never witnessed the group perform. Nor did he ever own any of their records. Plant did say that he had attended Mother’s — a “good environment for us musicians to hang out” — 40 or 50 times, but said, “I can’t recall Spirit or anybody playing there,” due to the “passage of time.”
Robert Plant has his weak musical moments. While testifying, Plant testified that he sang “Stairway” out of tune a lot before the final version of the song was nailed down. And he apparently doesn’t do sheet music. Asked if he could read music at the time when they created “Stairway,” Plant admitted, “I still can’t read it now.”
He’s pretty lyrical on the witness stand, as well as in the recording studio. Asked about the prospect of existing music influencing the songwriting process, Plant offered, “In the nest of rock ‘n’ roll, there’s always been cross-pollination, without a doubt.”
Led Zeppelin is accused of lifting from the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus” while writing “Stairway to Heaven.” Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, dubbed after the real name of Spirit frontman Randy California, filed suit in 2014. His suit notes that Spirit and Led Zeppelin played a number of shows together before the 1971 release of “Stairway to Heaven.”
While much of Tuesday’s court date was devoted to testimony from music experts, there was a moment of humor in court. When one expert testified that he’s incapable of playing Page’s solo in “Stairway to Heaven,” the legendary musician couldn’t help but to indulge in a laugh.