John Paul Jones on Spirit: “Never heard them, never met them…”

''Never heard them, Never met them'', says John Paul Jones in 'Stairway To Heaven' Case
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Jimmy Page had all of Spirit’s albums. John Paul Jones says he’s never even heard of the band.

On Friday (June 17th) John Paul Jones — Led Zeppelin’s bassist — took to the stand to testify in the high-profile ‘Stairway To Heaven’ infringement case.  Jones says that not only had he never heard of Spirit’s music, he never met the group and certainly didn’t own any of their albums.

Opposing attorney Francis Malofiy continued to probe around the topic of Led Zeppelin opening for Spirit in late 1968.  When questioned about ‘Fresh Garbage,’ the song off the same Spirit album as ‘Taurus’ that Led Zeppelin covered during a medley performance in late 1960s, Jones said that he didn’t know who the song was by.  Jones said it was simply a song he heard and thought was catchy.

Jones also claimed that he couldn’t remember who introduced the riff from Spirit’s ‘Fresh Garbage’ into the medley, though admitted that they performed the lick in the late 1960s.  Jones testified…

“I forgot who introduced it — I can’t remember.  It was a two-bar bass riff that popped out from somewhere.  It was a catchy little riff, had an interesting time thing and it caught my ear. I didn’t know where it was from.”

Malofiy was happy to remind Jones with the introduction of an audio recording of a 1972 BBC interview in Jones says, ”We were all in the country at Headley Grange when [Page and Plant] came back from the Welsh mountains with a guitar intro, verse and maybe more [of ‘Stairway to Heaven’].” During the cross-examination, Malofiy asked Jones, ”Did Mr. Page ever share that he had five albums of Spirit, including one double album?”

Jones simply responded, ”No”.

Throughout the case, Malofiy has done pretty good job at counteracting the Led Zeppelin band members claims regarding ‘Stairway To Heaven’ with concrete audio recordings.  Malofiy had Page stumbling on the stand last week, and has now thoroughly cross-examined Jones.  But music experts were present in the courtroom on Friday, and helped to dampen Malofiy’s counteraction success.

Musicologist Lawrence Ferrara clarified that despite their being similarities between both ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Taurus,’ these were common similarities that can be found in music dating back 300 years.  Ferrara says…

”That progression, that movement, has been around for 300 years, dating back to the 17th century.  In the 20th century, before ‘Taurus’, a large number of popular musicians, artists and composers also used it.”

Indeed, it was a Digital Music News commenter that discovered a nearly-identical riff from the early 1600s, by pre-baroque composer Giovanni Battista Granata.  The progression is so striking similar, it would solidly put the song in the public domain.

Ferrara also said the riff was a ‘building block’ and ‘was not something anyone could possibly own’.  But, his expertise was even more striking when he played the sheet music for ‘Taurus’ on the piano, followed by the into of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ to highlight what he says sounds ”dramatically different”.  But his contribution to the day in court was even more compelling when he played ‘To Catch A Shad,’ a public domain folk song that has little noticeable difference.  In fact, the court found it impossible to tell them apart.

The case continues…

(Image by Led Zeppelin’s Cadillac, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic, cc by 2.0)