The Spirit lost its way on The Stairway to Justice
An exclusive Interview with Larry “Fuzzy” Knight, former Bassist and Vocalist for Spirit 1976 to 1979, a man with insight into the Randy California Estate verse Led Zeppelin Court Case. Where there are accusations of Intellectual Theft, Plagiarism that “backfired”, Led Zeppelin leaves the Courtroom Exonerated, and The Estate of the Founder of The Epic Rock Group Spirit, reputation tarnished and left holding the bill.
Written by Joseph Timmons, IndiePulse Music Magazine
Recently members of Led Zeppelin had to defend themselves against a complaint of Plagiarism bought by the estate of the late Randy California one of the founding members of Spirit, The press has taken every point of view, Pro, Con, and all shades otherwise. The media has been making this case about the irrationality of music celebrities, rock stars and boisterous lawyers, sensationalizing every aspect of the case, except, the truth.
IndiePulse Music Magazine has the pleasure of introducing Larry “Fuzzy” Knight, who has an insight into this “case” our contemporaries in the media have missed, actually talking with someone who was there, another member of Spirit who testified and has had not only “his day in court” but will have the floor here, in an exclusive interview.
Since his days in Spirit, Larry “Fuzzy” Knight has never stopped performing, in his many projects and incarnations his most ambitious and extremely popular Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm & Blues Revue Featuring The Fabulous Smokettes has been packing the house, in past interviews, we found out about his history and his life, as well as got to know the man and the musical legend. But now, IndiePulse wants to find out what happened then, when and how, and where we sit now, that the courts have found in Led Zeppelin’s favor, that Stairway to Heaven, was and is an original musical creation or the iconic band that made history with their hypnotic sound and dazzling stage performance.
But, to be fair, everyone has written pieces on the aforementioned legends of rock, but what of Spirit?
A musical group whom also had an effect on the music world that shaped the music of today.
Spirit was an American rock band founded in 1967 and based in Los Angeles, California. Their most commercially successful single in the United States was “I Got a Line on You”, but they were also known for their albums including their self-titled debut album, The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. The original lineup of the group evolved from an earlier Los Angeles band the Red Roosters, which included Randy California, Mark Andes, and Jay Ferguson. With the addition of Ed Cassidy and keyboard player John Locke, the new band was originally named the Spirits Rebellious (after a book by Kahlil Gibran) but was soon shortened simply to Spirit.
Larry “Fuzzy” Knight became a formal member of Spirit in 1976 and was with the band until 1979 playing bass and performing vocals. Larry has not only an insight into the events of the court proceedings, but of the events of the past leading up to this event that will be remembered as one of the biggest legal issue in Rock and Roll History.
When Larry “Fuzzy” Knight answered my questions, he opened the conversation with his remembrance of his close friend.
LFK: “It was Randy California that gave me the name ‘Fuzzy’ at the end of 1972 when I returned to Los Angeles from living in San Francisco working for the Jefferson Airplane Organization. I had grown a very full and thick beard and let my hair grow down below the center of my back. When Randy saw me, he immediately started calling me ‘Fuzzy’ and when we went on tour, I was always introduced as Larry “Fuzzy’ Knight to our audiences by Randy. And I am ‘Fuzzy’ to this very day!”
“Just to set the record straight, I actually began playing gigs as the new Spirit Bassist as early as the fall of 1971. My history as Bassist with this legendary Band started in 1971(with touring gigs as Spirit in the fall of 1971), extensive touring throughout Europe in 1973, 1974(U.S.) up until mid-1975, when at that time, I took a break from touring so that I could be with my family and be present for the birth of my first child (Daughter, Lauren). “
“I had been touring constantly since arriving in Los Angeles in 1970. I toured with Albert Collins, Tim Rose, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, and Spirit and then with Peter Kaukenon when I was hired by the Jefferson Airplane to play and record Bass with Peter (Black Kangaroo) and other artists signed to their new record Label, Grunt Records.”
I was called back to Los Angeles by Randy California in late 1972 to start touring again with Spirit, go to Europe (’73). After my daughter was born and I had a chance to be a real Dad, I was asked to start back playing with Spirit again in 1977. From that point on, I stayed with Spirit from 1977 until mid-1980. I, often, went into the recording studio with Randy and Cass, whether we were touring or not, which led to many posthumous releases after Randy’s death”
IPM: Larry, we are aware that you may not be able to discuss some of the events in the court, but can you, in your own words, happened back then that created the situation that happened recently?
LFK: “I had met Randy and Cass after I had relocated to Los Angeles in late 1970. We met at an all-day and night Jam at a ranch in Agoura, CA, where musicians from Spirit, Canned Heat, Black Oak Arkansas, Booker T and the MG’s and others would gather and hang out all day and night jamming with each other, getting high and really having a whole lot of fun on an outdoor stage. Randy, Cass and I always had a ‘magic’ time playing together. Randy’s Blues roots went very well with my Blues musical history from St. Louis, where I was born and taught the blues from playing with and in the bands of Albert King, Little Milton (Milton Campbell), Ike Turner and Chuck Berry.” “I was asked by Randy to go out and tour in the U.S. with the revamped Spirit because the Original group had broken up. The new group consisted of Randy, Ed Cassidy, John Locke and I. In 1971, Randy was in the studio recording his first solo album under the name, Kaptain Kopter & the Fabulous Twirlybirds. He wanted me to go into the studio and record a number of tracks with him for the album, which I did. It turned out that the album went to the top of the Import charts in England. Randy wanted to tour as Kaptain Kopter but the Booking Agents insisted on going to Europe as Spirit, which we did. In 1971, Led Zeppelin released the song “Stairway To Heaven”. In 1968, Epic Records released Spirit’s recording of the song “Taurus”, which was written by Randy. I do remember Randy asking me, if I had heard Led Zeppelin’s new release. He mentioned to me that it sounded like a song he had already recorded and released so Randy was very aware of the similarities between ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway To Heaven’ immediately. Eventually, I heard both songs and agreed with Randy’s observation.”
IPM: When did the parties consider that Led Zeppelin may have taken in part or in whole the material from the piece written by Spirit?
LFK: “As I stated previously, Randy California was very aware that there were similarities between his recording of ‘Taurus’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stair To Heaven’ but maybe the timing wasn’t right for Randy to take issue with the similarities because of his intensity in the recording studio to complete his initial solo album. He was trying his best to establish himself as a solo artist after the breakup of the original SPIRIT band. Then, came the offer to tour all of Europe. It turned out to be a very, very long tour, playing all over the U.K., Scotland, Ireland, all over the Continent (Benelux Countries, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Austria, Scandinavia (Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland) so we were very busy and pre-occupied. To make matters even more interesting, we performed a Concert show at one of London’s most famous venues, The Rainbow Theater. It was a special night for us. The band was ‘feeling it’ and we played and improvised with an amazing intensity and earned as many as 7 or 8 encores, breaking a record for any band that had ever played at the Rainbow. After the show was over, CBS held an After Show party for the band at a Hotel.”
“There were around 200 plus people there, including Jimmy Page, who I spoke with. Randy, Cass and I were all there, moving around separately, talking with the people who attended.” “Now, another event occurred that interfered with Randy’s thoughts in regards to the “Stairway To Heaven” similarities. During our touring throughout Europe, Randy became physically and totally exhausted. By nature Randy was a quiet man, giving to being slightly introverted and had never been very happy about the business part of being in the music business. He was unhappy about giving up Spirit’s song publishing, along with the other band members, to get their initial Recording Contract with Epic Records and with the possibility that he was ripped off by Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin didn’t help his mind set or his deteriorating health. He began using heavy doses of LSD, Hash, Cocaine, which eventually, along with all the other issues that seemed to be bottled up inside his tender soul.”
“Before we were able to complete our tour of the Scandinavian Countries, Randy collapsed and had to return to the United States to be hospitalized and went through a re-hab program. He went to live in Hawaii to recover and did not play his guitar for nearly two years, while on the mend. In regards as to my involvement with the original recording of ‘Taurus’, all I can say is that I was not in the band at that time, did not record it and in all honesty, in all the years that I played with Randy, we never played that song on stage”. “I think it important to note that the Spirit Band of 1971 and on…did not have a formal Manager. Randy, and the business office he retained, handled all the business transactions for the band. So the matter of taking Led Zeppelin to court had been in Randy’s hands. He didn’t bring up the matter much, if at all until much, much later, into the mid-eighties.”
IPM: When were you contacted to be a part of the event and give evidence, what was your statement, we researched the news briefs and the online media coverage and you were mentioned briefly by Rolling Stone, whom mentioned your contributions to the legacy of music and performances of Spirit, but otherwise, gave no actual information on your testimony.
LFK: “The cast of characters involved with the Lawsuit for Copyright Infringement against Jimmy Page, Robert Plant aka Led Zeppelin (Atlantic Records, Rhino Records, Warner/Chappell Music) were Michael Skidmore as Legal Representative for the Estate of Randy Wolfe aka Randy California, Lead Attorney for Randy Wolfe, Francis Malofiy, and the presiding Judge of the Trial, Judge Klausner and Attorney Peter Anderson, Defense’s Lead Attorney.”
“I had been contacted originally by Mick (Michael) Skidmore, that a lawsuit would begin against Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in regards to the likeness between Randy’s song ‘Taurus” and the intro of the song ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in 2014. Eventually I spoke with the Attorney who had taken on the case, Mr. Francis Malofiy. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, both stated that they had NEVER heard the song ‘Taurus’ on the original Spirit Record, in Concert or had even met Randy or the other members of Spirit. Interestingly, Jimmy had the Original Spirit Album, along with other Spirit albums in his personal record collection but claimed he never listened to them. Led Zeppelin had also performed on shows here in the U.S. before they ever released the song ‘Stairway To Heaven’ as one of the bands that played before Spirit came out to play their show. These comments were ever so confusing and made little common sense.”
“I was called upon to testify about meeting and speaking with Jimmy Page at the after-party from the Rainbow Theater Concert. At this party, there were a few hundred people, including Jimmy Page. He walked up to me and congratulated me and the Band on our ‘great show’ at the Rainbow Theater. He asked me if we were going to be playing any other dates while we were in London. I told him that we would be staying in London and had rented a flat (Apartment) in Chelsea on King’s Road above a high end Lady’s Boutique Dress Shop (where we ran into actress Julie Christy and singer, Diana Ross). We would also be playing at the Marquee Club in London as well as all over the Continent for at least 4 to 6 months of gigs. Jimmy was gracious as musicians are to other musicians when they meet after a show. After our brief conversation, he moved on through the crowd to find Randy and Cass to speak with them. I did not recall Robert Plant being there. My testimony was to bring out the fact that Jimmy Page did meet members of Spirit, even though he denied it but heck, it was nearly 45 years ago! It was also very important for people to know that I believed Randy’s state of mind and health were, in part, affected by the fact that he believed he should have, at the very least, been given credit for writing the introduction to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and it bothered him, along with other issues mentioned previously”
IPM: Larry, I don’t want to seem impetuous, but, what happened, what is the part of the story that has not been told, and why not, and in your opinion, why did the attorneys for the Estate of Randy California seem to be so inept, unable to coordinate the material, and in fact produce evidence that appeared to be falsified, when real material and evidence could be out there, not that I want to say anything negative about the defendants in this case, Mr. Jones, Mr. Page, Mr. Plant and the late Mr. Bonham, but I personally wonder about the virtuous intentions of the record label and their executives, the Record Industry is known for their rabid protection of their money, not their artists.
LFK: “Because I was to testify, I was not allowed to be a member of the audience in the courtroom, until dismissed by the judge. I do know that it very contentious from the very beginning between the opposing Attorneys and the Judge and the Attorneys. It was a known fact that the members of Led Zeppelin had been sued many times for Copyright Infringement and had lost and settled many of their trials, even having to “ADD” other writer’s names to their songs. This was NOT ALLOWED to be brought up in court. The only person that can really elaborate on the efficiencies or deficiencies of Attorney, Francis Malofiy is Mick Skidmore. I do know that the Judge had to issue many warnings to Attorneys on both sides for pushing the limits and buttons too far and too often. There seemed to be a problem with Copyright Laws that were in place at the time these songs were copyrighted and the laws as they are today.”
“What and why they were problems for the Plaintiff is something that I do not have enough legal knowledge to comment on. If I had been the person bringing the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, I would have researched every single fact and story to find the truth. In retrospect, I would not have chosen a controversial Attorney to represent this case. The one thing that I do know is that Randy (Wolfe)” “California believed in his heart that he had been ripped off and deserved ‘credit’ for his original work. He never spoke of the matter until asked by interviewers. He barely ever brought it up with his fellow musicians. It was just something that he carried silently inside himself for many years. Recently I spoke with Michael (Mick) Skimmer about the verdict of the case. He stated that the Jury, when given the case to decide, initially took five hours to debate the issues and came back the next morning to ask the judge to clarify 4 various points. One of these, which in my mind, was the most important issue of all, and which could have affected an entirely different verdict was to hear the Original guitar track recorded by Randy (Spirit) and the Original Guitar track as recorded by Jimmy (Led Zeppelin) for comparison. They were not allowed to hear that. They were only allowed to hear some expert musicologists play the passages from the sheet music that had been filed at the copyright office.”
“Fair or not fair?”
“No one knows but it might have been a game changer if they had been allowed to hear the Original recordings. (A closing thought that I had was, that the jury probably wondered why this case was brought to trial 45 years after “Stairway To Heaven” was released and after the composer had passed away).”
IPM: Larry, what would you like to have the readers and the public remember about the Legacy of Music created by Spirit?
LFK: “If anything, the publicity that SPIRIT and Randy California have received over the last two years has brought a current awareness as to the uniqueness of the trail blazing music created by one of the most individualistic rock bands of the late 60’s and 70’s. Randy California was a phenomenal rock and blues guitarist, adept at electric and acoustic guitar at all levels and a very prolific songwriter. He continued on throughout his career writing great songs of love, peace and higher spirituality.”
“The original Spirit created rock music that incorporated influences of jazz, swing, folk, blues, and rock, orchestral mixed together with great lyrics. It was truly a one-of-a-kind band that has left it’s footprints in the history of excellent rock music. Randy California continued to write, record and tour until the time of his untimely death. I urge all listeners of great rock music to go to YouTube and check out the music of Spirit.”
“As for me, I am proud to have been a true member of Spirit for many years and to have toured and recorded with Randy and Ed ‘Cass’ Cassidy and John Locke. Our live Concert on German Television, Rock Palast is considered one of the greatest shows they ever televised. Check it out on YouTube. SPIRIT never followed others but led with their very own uniqueness.”
Larry ‘Fuzzy’ Knight
All things said and pondered, we may not ever get to the very bottom of this issue, and my take on this article was not to air dirty laundry or get involved with the “who said what and when”, I really wanted to have a story that would be a forum for someone to hear from the side of Randy California, a man who, without the luxury of the Hollywood Historians, was a driving force in Music, and an innovator in what is now the most popular music in the world, and to quote Mick Jagger…
“I know it’s only Rock & roll, But I Like It!”