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If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, you must acquit

I knew there was a lawsuit going on over the provenance of Stairway to Heaven, but I hadn’t realized there were Texas connections to it.

In a few weeks, jurors will decide if Led Zeppelin lifted the guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” from an instrumental song “Taurus” by the California psychedelic pop-rock band Spirit. Three of the former members of Spirit live in the Houston area.

The suit was filed in 2014 by original Spirit bassist Mark Andes and the estate of “Taurus” composer Randy Wolfe, known in his Spirit days as “Randy California,” a handle bestowed upon him by none other than Jimi Hendrix. After leaving Spirit, Andes held down the bottom end for Jo Jo Gunne; soft-rockers Firefall; and then, during their chart-topping 1980s run of pop hits, Heart. After leaving Heart, Andes moved to Austin with one-time love interest Eliza Gilkyson and stuck around after their relationship ended. Since then he has married and now lives in Montgomery County, just north of Houston. Citing the ongoing suit, Andes politely declined to comment.

Houston is also the home of Austin-bred brothers Al and John Staehely, both of whom played in Spirit after Andes’s departure and the composition of “Taurus.” Al Staehely is now Houston’s most prominent entertainment lawyer.

Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer (and former Austinite) Robert Plant, composers of “Stairway,” are the defendants. The suit seeks to have Wolfe listed as a co-composer alongside Page and Plant, who have long claimed to have written the song in the stark, rustic confines of Bron-Yr-Aur, an isolated Welsh cottage, near where the faeries gambol and the hobbits frolic.

Here’s the Spirit song in question:

I trust you know how Stairway to Heaven begins, but you can click over to the Texas Monthly story for a video embed of it if you need to. The guitar riff that is clearly the basis of the lawsuit starts about 55 seconds in. There’s definitely a similarity, but to my amateur musician’s ear, it’s just too basic to be copy-able. I don’t know that I could bring myself to find for the plaintiff, but if you read the story you’ll see that based on past cases, it doesn’t take much for the plaintiffs to prevail in this kind of action. You’ll also see that there’s another song, from Robert Plant’s childhood, that might have been the real inspiration for Stairway. What I know is that the YouTube video of Spirit’s Taurus has more than four million views, so even if they lose this lawsuit, they’ve already won in a way. Take a look and listen and see what you think.

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