The copyright court battle between Led Zeppelin and 1960s psych-rockers Spirit over “Stairway to Heaven” took a startling turn Wednesday in the trial’s second day, as guitarist Jimmy Page was called to the stand to testify in his and the band’s defense. Spectators gathered outside Court 850 in Los Angeles’ Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse were already twittering (and Tweeting) in suspense after seeing Robert Plant and Page enter the court’s chambers with Page holding a guitar case. Alas, the assembled weren’t treated to an impromptu version of “Stairway to Heaven” by the song’s original writers and performers; instead, they were subjected to the trial’s most pointed, tension-filled moments yet.
The trial began with continued testimony from Spirit’s Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes, focusing on a 1970 U.K. concert Spirit played in drummer John Bonham and Plant’s hometown of Birmingham at a club known as Mother’s and allegedly attended by Plant himself. Andes was the plaintiff’s most sympathetic witness yet: Exuding sincerity, he described his encounter with Plant at a pre-concert meet-and-greet and post-performance afterparty. “It was a spontaneous gathering – we wound up in the club’s pub area,” Andes recounted in his testimony. “I played snooker with Robert Plant and we were definitely drinking.”
During discussion of the Birmingham concert, Plant seemed more engaged, and almost wistful, hearing detailed descriptions of his hometown from witnesses. Andes was undermined, however, under defense lawyer Peter Anderson’s ruthless cross-examination. Contrary to his earlier testimony, the Spirit musician was forced to recant that Page was not in attendance at the group’s Mother’s show and that any meeting with Plant at the meet-and-greet would’ve lasted “about a minute.”
On the stand, Page was alternately candid, evasive, sarcastic and wittily charming in his Anglicisms.
Bizarrely, the similarity between Spirit’s song “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” wasn’t brought up until nearly two hours into today’s proceedings; the friendship between Jimi Hendrix and late Spirit guitarist and “Taurus” composer Randy California was brought up ad infinitum by the plaintiff’s witness, while a seemingly pointless and sentimental questioning of Spirit superfan Bruce Pates by Malofiy dragged on forever. (Judge Gregory Klausner didn’t allow most of Pates’ testimony as he was not designated an official expert witness, with Led Zeppelin’s lead counsel Peter Anderson declining to even cross-examine Pates.)