STAIRWAY TO THE HIGH COURT - Part 2, The Mary Poppins Connection

I have been shown a copy of the deposition signed by Jimmy Page in relation to the lawsuit over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ that I wrote about here last week. It is dated February 24, 2016, not long ago, and although the other two surviving members of Led Zeppelin are mentioned Jimmy seems to be the only member of the group to have been asked to give evidence. In a nutshell, he denies completely any suggestion of plagiarism, says he never heard the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ until 2014, states that descending chord progressions like this have been prevalent for years, citing several examples, and shunts into touch any suggestion that because Led Zep were on the same bill as Spirit back in 1968 (once) and ’69 (twice), some cross-fertilisation may have taken place. Fuck off, in other words.
“I composed the music to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ with the intention to create a long work,” he states at the outset, “with multiple different parts that would unfold with increasing complexity and speed culminating in a guitar solo that was preceded by a distinct fanfare, followed by the last verse concluding a climax to the song.” He confirms that Robert wrote the words after he’d composed the music and goes on to state when and where it was recorded, and when it was first performed live. “It was included on the album usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV,” he adds, thus (almost) giving a name to a record he has consistently declined to refer to by its title since its release in 1971.
“The beginning of ‘Stairway…’ includes a chromatic descending line chord progression and arpeggios, over which I played an ascending line,” he points out, adding that he considers descending chromatic lines and arpeggiated chords “basic skills learnt by a student of the guitar”. “As a guitarist I was aware of descending chromatic lines and arpeggios long before 1968,” he adds, and few would doubt him on this.
To illustrate his point, Jimmy refers to a demo of a track called ‘Spring Is Near’ that he worked on in 1960 for Chris Farlowe, which seems unusually early as JP would only have been 17 at the time and Farlowe & The Thunderbirds were barely past the rehearing-in-mum-and-dad’s-bedroom stage by then. Nevertheless Jimmy’s penchant for hoarding has evidently come in useful as he is able to lodge a pressing of this demo with his lawyer. “The beginning of ‘Spring Is Near’, recorded in 1960, is a guitar playing a descending chromatic chord progression,” he points out helpfully.
This is far from the only example that Jimmy mentions, citing “songs by the Beatles” (he doesn’t say which but I’ll opt for ‘For No One’) and the intro to Davey Graham’s instrumental reading of ‘Cry Me River’ which can be found on YouTube and does indeed feature a few lines that sound a bit like ‘Stairway’. More interestingly, Jimmy cites ‘Chim Chim Chimree’ from the film Mary Poppins as an example of a song wherein the music “is going at a counterpoint, and I used that and similar ideas in my music.” Finally he mentions a session he did in 1968 for a group called Cartoone on song called ‘Ice Cream Dreams’ which also has a descending line. “I participated in that session in the fall of 1968 before Led Zeppelin went to the US in December, 1968,” he adds, stressing the significance that this occurred prior to the gig with Spirit in Denver on December 26, 1968.
If the evidence thus far is designed to demonstrate how the descending figure in ‘Stairway’ is very common in songs, the rest is designed to refute suggestions that Jimmy was aware of Spirit’s song ‘Taurus’, at least until he first heard in in 2014. “I never heard ‘Taurus’ or even heard of it,” he states. “I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ before 2014. I do not recall ever seeing Spirit perform live. I am absolutely certain I never heard them, or anyone else, perform ‘Taurus’.”
The evidence that follows confirms that Led Zeppelin and Spirit did play on the same bill but Jimmy is at pains to point out that even though this was the case he and the other members of Zep never actually saw them. “Generally, in my experience, when bands play on the same bill, each band or performer used their own guitars, amplifiers, keyboards, drums and other equipment,” he states, clearly believing that whoever is reading this disposition has no knowledge whatsoever of the rock world. “In between performances their respective road crews would set up or dismantle and remove their equipment and that took anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes depending on the extent of the equipment. In my experience the set up interval between bands meant that we did not encounter any other bands entering or leaving the stage.”
A suggestion by the plaintiffs that Led Zeppelin and Spirit were introduced to one another by someone from whom Zep had leased a plane is also kicked into touch. “Led Zeppelin did not lease an aeroplane for touring until 1973, long after the concert in Denver in 1968,” he points out.
Jimmy concedes that he owns a copy of Spirit’s first album but maintains he has never played it. “I have several thousand albums of many different kinds,” he says. “They include albums I purchased, albums people gave me or albums that were simply left at my home. Like a book collector who never gets round to reading the books they collect, I have never listened to many of the albums.” He does not know how the Spirit album came to be in his collection. “It may well have been left by a guest. I doubt it was there for long because I never noticed it before [this litigation].”
Jimmy concludes his deposition by stating that many documents and demo recordings have been lost or stolen over the years – “stolen from my home in the 1980s” – but those that he does still own have been produced for use as evidence in this action. Finally, he alludes to the passing of John Bonham, Peter Grant and Andy Johns (who engineering the recording of ‘Stairway…’) who may have been able to support his deposition.

I am grateful to Richard Morton Jack for sending me a copy of Jimmy Page's deposition.


John H said...

It's 'My Sweet Lord' all over again - but why leave it till now?

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