Randy California’s Relatives Sue Led Zep Over “Stairway to Heaven”

Several news outlets are reporting that Randy California’s relatives are suing Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over Jimmy Page’s use of a riff written by Randy California. The lawsuit seeks damages for Page’s use of the opening of Spirit’s song “Taurus” for “Starway to Heaven”. Because of the statute of limitations, they can only sue for damages from the last three years but given that Jimmy Page is working on reissuing Led Zeppelin’s catalog, this could result in a substantial amount of money. Other such cases, such as Jake Holmes suing over “Dazed and Confused” have also resulted in changing songwriting credits. CNN had an interesting discussion about the legal aspects of this case.

Some of the news stories used a quote from an interview Jeff McLaughlin did with Randy California in the Winter 1997 issue of Listener magazine, shortly before Randy California died. This quote is included in my “Stairway to Heaven” post and the NPR article by Bill Chappell included a link to my blog. Rolling Stone and The Guardian quoted from the McLaughlin interview, as well. It’s interesting how I got this article. I had found part of Randy California’s quote on a discussion forum and included it in an earlier version of my piece on “Stairway to Heaven”. At that time Jeff McLaughlin contacted me to tell me that I only had part of Randy California’s quote from the interview. He told me that Randy California was actually much more direct in accusing Jimmy Page of stealing his work and expressed some resentment that was missing from the partial quote I had originally used. Jeff McLaughlin sent me the full issue and I’ve used the full quote in subsequent updates of my post on “Stairway to Heaven”.

One thought on “Randy California’s Relatives Sue Led Zep Over “Stairway to Heaven””

  1. I find it far more likely that Page was elaborating on something he’d heard over a decade earlier, from Davy Graham, of whom it is well-known that Page is a fan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWeejHJxGjs The melody and chord changes over the lament bass have similarities (as opposed to “Taurus”, which lacks a melody or chord changes in the part in question), and it even has that sliding bit found in live versions of “Stairway”. There is always the possibility that both influenced, too, but I’d say that the Davy Graham recording had a stronger pull, being in Page’s head for longer. Maybe hearing “Taurus” reminded him of that version of “Cry Me A River”, and he went back and gave it another listen.

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