Robert Plant Recalls 1970 Car Crash, Not Seeing Spirit Play

  • Led Zeppelin singer testifies about night in Birmingham club
  • Plant tells jury he doesn’t remember who he met 45 years ago

Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant recalled a January 1970 car crash that left him with part of the windshield in the top of his head, but he said he couldn’t remember meeting members of the band Spirit or seeing them perform at a club where he had spent part of that evening.

Plant, 67, took the stand Tuesday in the trial over whether Led Zeppelin stole the opening chords to “Stairway to Heaven” from an instrumental by Spirit, a California band whose former members claim Plant met with them the night of their show.

The singer got a laugh out of the spectators in the Los Angeles courtroom, admitting he really had no recollection of any bands he saw playing at Mothers Club in Birmingham in the U.K. or of anyone who he might have met there in those days.

“You meet so many people," Plant said. “In the middle of all the chaos, and the hubbub, how can you remember that more than 40 years later?"

Testimony in the copyright trial ended Tuesday. Jurors will be asked to decide the case after closing arguments set for Wednesday.

The trust of the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe accuses Plant and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page of lifting the opening of "Stairway to Heaven" from an instrumental Wolfe wrote in 1967 for his girlfriend. The plaintiffs have been trying to elicit evidence that Plant and Page knew Spirit and their work and that the "Stairway to Heaven" chords are substantially similar to the Spirit composition "Taurus."

The club in Birmingham was a focal point for the local music scene, Plant said. The singer told jurors that he lived in a village in the area and that he and his wife would go to Mothers Club to meet up with musicians. The car crash on their way home from the club happened the night Spirit played there.

Drinking, Snooker

The former bassist for Spirit, Mark Andes, testified last week that he hung out with Plant at Mothers Club after their performance, drinking and playing snooker.

Plant also recalled working on “Stairway to Heaven” with Page in the British countryside in 1970.

“I was really trying to bring in the beauty and remoteness of pastoral Britain," he said.

Plant said he knew Spirit from a song, “Fresh Garbage,” that he found on a compilation album and that he and late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham used a riff from that song in a medley called “As Long as I Have You” that they performed in a band that preceded the formation of Led Zeppelin.

Francis Malofiy, the lawyer for the Wolfe trust, has been trying to show that Led Zeppelin members would have been familiar with “Taurus” because it was on the same album as “Fresh Garbage.” Led Zeppelin played the medley with the "Fresh Garbage" riff during their first U.S. tour in late 1968, early 1969.

Page, 72, called to the stand for a second time, was the last witness. He explained the various stages he went through working on "Stairway to Heaven" in Headley Grange, a rehearsal studio in Hampshire, U.K., with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

Rehearsal Tapes

The jurors listened to four tapes from the rehearsal sessions with Page and Jones playing through parts of the song and Plant doing vocals on one of them. Led Zeppelin’s lawyer Peter Anderson finished the defense by playing the full album version of "Stairway to Heaven."

Page, called to testify last week by the trust, told jurors then that he hadn’t heard "Taurus" until a few years ago when his son-in-law showed him comparisons of the two songs on the internet.

Led Zeppelin on Monday asked U.S. District R. Gary Klausner to throw out the claims by Wolfe’s trust, arguing that there was no evidence presented at trial that the trust owns the copyright to "Taurus." The rights to the composition, according to Led Zeppelin, belong to the publisher with whom Spirit made a deal with in 1967 and who never brought an infringement lawsuit.

Klausner hasn’t indicated whether he’ll consider that request. Led Zeppelin also argued in the motion that the trust and its executor, Michael Skidmore, hadn’t shown beyond speculation that Page and Plant ever heard "Taurus" and that the trust’s music experts based their comparison of the two songs on elements of "Taurus" that are commonplace and not entitled to copyright protection.

The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, 15-cv-03462, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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