Robert Plant, one of the most celebrated singers in rock music history, took the stand Tuesday in the copyright trial over his band Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” recounting for the jury how the iconic song was created.
Plant’s story of how the song came about is an important element to the defense he and Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page are mounting against accusations they stole the song’s famous opening guitar chords from a song by Spirit, an L.A. band that gained some notoriety in the late 1960s.
Speaking in a soft, high-pitched voice and dressed in a trim, two-piece navy suit with his long hair pulled back in a ponytail, Plant recalled an evening sitting with Page by a fire at a rural rehearsal and recording retreat more than 45 years ago, when Page played for him the opening notes of what would eventually become the eight-minute epic.
Plant testified that at the time he had been toying with a lyrical couplet evocative of “the natural, old, almost unspoken” culture and mystic scenery of the Welsh countryside and thought it might go well with the music Page played.
“Do you remember what that couplet was?” Peter Anderson, a lawyer for Zeppelin, asked Plant. The musician sighed, hesitated briefly and then recited one of the most revered opening lines in the rock music canon.
“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven,” Plant said quietly, continuing, “When she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for.”
Under cross-examination, the lawyer for the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe prodded Plant about whether the band performed other artists’ songs in the early years before they more fully developed their own musical repertory.
Plant readily acknowledged that they had, saying pointedly, “I don't have any problem with that.”
“In the realm of rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues,” Plant went on, “there has always been cross-pollination. Without it you wouldn't have had Little Richard, Larry Williams, the Beatles… all moving across space.”
Plant addressed previous testimony that he had watched Spirit perform at a club in Birmingham, England, and socialized with the band members after that show. Saying the club was a regular stop for him and his wife, Plant claimed to have a poor memory and said he had no recollection of seeing Spirit.
“I really don't recall any of the bands I saw there or everyone I ever hung out with.”
7:06 p.m.: This article was updated with minor editing.
This article was originally published at 2:46 p.m.