I’m surprised this hasn’t happened until now. A trust representing the late Randy California, the founder of the late 1960s psychadelic band Spirit, and Spirit’s original bassist Mark Andes are suing Led Zeppelin over back royalties on “Stairway to Heaven.” Its guitar riff is derived from a California penned instrumental called “Taurus.”
I’ve been a Spirit fan for years (please see my obit on drummer Ed Cassidy in December 2012) and have “Taurus” on my MP3 player. Jimmy Page absolutely stole that riff. Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit during its first tour of the United States in late 1968, early 1969. California, who drowned after rescuing his son while they were surfing in Hawaii in 1997, said late in his life he would have liked some acknowledgement for his contribution to the song. However, California never pursued legal action because he did not have the funds to do so. Although Spirit was an influential band, California and his band mates made little money from their musical venture.
Listen for yourselves. Here’s “Stairway to Heaven” and here’s “Taurus.” Wait for about 45 seconds before the guitar part comes in. Remember that “Taurus” was released almost four years before “Stairway to Heaven” saw the light of day.