Led Zeppelin’s Page testifies to ‘Stairway’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ song similarity
By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page said on Thursday that the riff he is accused of stealing for the band’s 1971 hit “Stairway to Heaven” is in fact a commonly used chord progression similar to a melody from the 1964 movie musical “Mary Poppins.”
Page, with his ex-bandmate Robert Plant looking on, took the witness stand for a second day in a copyright infringement trial in a Los Angeles federal court.
The civil action, brought by a trustee for Randy Wolfe, the late guitarist for the American band Spirit, contends the British band stole the descending chromatic four-chord progression at the beginning of their signature song from Spirit’s 1967 instrumental “Taurus.”
Page, under questioning by an attorney for the plaintiff, repeatedly said he was not sure whether any similarity exists between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus.”
He was quicker to draw a comparison to “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in “Mary Poppins,” when asked about a written declaration he gave for the lawsuit where he talked about “Stairway” and the more uptempo song from the Disney film.
“I may have said the chord sequences are very similar because that chord sequence has been around forever,” Page said.
The testimony from Page, whom many consider one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, is in line with similar statements made by attorneys for Led Zeppelin, who argue the chord progression has long been in common use.
In 2008, the business magazine Condé Nast Portfolio estimated that “Stairway to Heaven” had generated more than $560 million in royalties.
More recently, a company to benefit members of Led Zeppelin and their heirs distributed more than 6.6 million British pounds last year, the equivalent of more than $9 million in current dollars, from royalty payments on the band’s songs over the previous 12 months, Page testified.
Michael Skidmore, the trustee for Wolfe’s estate, has said Page may have been inspired to write “Stairway to Heaven” after hearing California-based Spirit perform “Taurus” while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969.
The lawsuit seeks a writing credit for Wolfe on the song and damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
Page, 72, on Wednesday testified that he did not recall hearing “Taurus” until recently, after he had been made aware of comparisons being made between the two songs.
Plant is also expected to testify in the case.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Alistair Bell and Steve Orlofsky)