the stairway to heaven leads to gilligan’s island

Es­ti­mated reading time is 7 min­utes.

IN MAY 1978, a rather silly record by a group with a rather silly name was re­leased by in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area. After making a splash in that market, radio sta­tions around the country picked it up for their playlists. Had things been left to them­selves, it might have been a hit, as nov­elty records still had a chance in the Top 40 at the time. Hell’s Belles, it might have been the “Judy in Dis­guise (with Glasses)” of its time!

Or it might have been a nov­elty that found its way into the dustbin of pop music his­tory, for­gotten and ig­nored ex­cept Dr. De­mento. In­stead, the biggest bloody band in the world de­cided to oblit­erate this record, turning it into a minor legend in rock & roll history.

The group was Little Roger & the Goose­bumps, which fea­tured Roger Clark and Dick Bright. The record was Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway), a “vanity pressing” re­leased on the group’s own Splash Records (SPL-901). It fea­tured the lyrics to the theme song to Gilligan’s Is­land, a CBS tele­vi­sion se­ries that ran for three sea­sons (1964-1967).

This ar­ticle was orig­i­nally pub­lished as “Little Roger and the Goose­bumps Take a Stairway to Gilligan’s Is­land and Su­pe­rior Court” in 2014. I deleted about 500 words from that ar­ticle, added 500 new words, and rewrote the rest.


LittleRoger GilligansIsland PS 500

This pic­ture sleeve was not man­u­fac­tured by Splash records for the single. It was made by Roger Clark using a pho­to­copier after he had been or­dered by the court to cease man­u­fac­turing the record. Sup­pos­edly, he made only fifty sleeves for per­sonal use.

They’re here on Gilligan’s Island

Here are the lyrics:

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip
that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure.
Five pas­sen­gers set sail that day for a three-hour tour.
A three-hour tour.

(Makes me wonder.)

Now the ship’s aground on the shore of this un­charted desert isle, with Gilligan, the skipper, too.
The mil­lion­aire and his wife.
The movie star and the rest.
They’re here on Gilligan’s Island.

The weather started get­ting rough,
and the tiny ship was tossed.
But for the courage of the crew
the Minnow would be lost.

Now the ship’s aground upon the shore
of this un­charted desert isle.
And they’re here on Gilligan’s Island.

These lyrics alone might have at­tracted at­ten­tion for their sheer nov­elty ef­fect. What made the record unique was that these lyrics were set to the music of the most ubiq­ui­tous record on FM radio—Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven. The Goose­bumps used Zep’s arrange­ment and per­for­mance, making the record a bril­liant piece of satire.

For the ses­sion, the band was Roger Clark and backed by Earth Quake. It was that band’s Robbie Dunbar who pro­vided the stun­ning Page-like guitar solo.


Stairway to Superior Court

Alas, satire is a form rarely ap­pre­ci­ated by those being sat­i­rized, as it re­quired a gen­erous sense of humor but one’s place in the scheme of things. Led Zep­pelin was not noted for having any sense of humor about itself.

Ap­par­ently, both Jimmy Page and Zep’s man­ager Peter Grant saw Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway) as an af­front to Led Zeppelin’s image and an in­fringe­ment of their in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty right—even though satire is pro­tected under the First Amend­ment as not being an in­fringe­ment on those rights.

Little Roger & the Goose­bumps’ fif­teen min­utes of fame were brief. Within weeks of its re­lease, the group re­ceived a cease and de­sist order from a law firm rep­re­senting three clients: the pub­lisher of Stairway To Heaven, At­lantic Records, and Sher­wood Schwartz. Schwartz was the pro­ducer who had cre­ated Gilligan’s Island.

In a 2018 in­ter­view with Jeff Tamarkin, Clark claimed that:

“The legal issue in­volved whether ‘fair use’ in­cluded this kind of ma­nip­u­la­tion, com­pli­cated by the fact that two songs were de­filed. The lawyers were thor­ough enough to have elim­i­nated an end run by roping Sher­wood Schwartz into the com­plaint. We were not in a po­si­tion to fight and were or­dered to turn over or de­stroy all copies, tapes, and pressing parts.” (Best Classic Bands)

The group was in no po­si­tion to fend off such a suit and ac­qui­esced. Thus did a group and a record pass into one of the lesser levels of rock and roll mythology.

It was Led Zeppelin’s pub­lishing com­pany who kept the song from growing into a hit due to Little Roger’s failure to seek per­mis­sion prior to re­leasing the record. The plain­tiffs or­dered the record to be taken off the market and all copies de­stroyed.” (Tan­gent Sunset)


LedZeppelin ChateauMarmont 1969 1000

Those British guys with no sense of humor: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and Jimmy Page at Chateau Mar­mont in May 1969. (Photo by Jay Thompson.)

Making fun of the ’70s

In 2007, Roger Clark was in­ter­viewed by Paul Kil­duff for The Kil­duff File on The Monthly mag­a­zine web­site. Here are edited ex­cerpts from that conversation:

We were a re­ally pop­ular club band that did four sets a night of orig­inal ma­te­rial. [Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway)] was just was a throw­away gag to fill space when we got bored by the end of the night. We were selling out clubs all the time be­fore we had fucking ‘Gilligan’ happen. ‘Gilligan’ just got us at­ten­tion out­side the Bay Area.

[Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway)] to­tally de­railed a band that seemed to have some mo­mentum in the public. This seemed to be le­git­i­mate and all of a sudden it be­came the joke that ate my band.

We had this sort of trash medley that we did at the end of the night where we would just do dozens of songs slammed to­gether. All these little snip­pets that would give you whiplash.

And we needed to re­fresh it so we were, ‘Okay, let’s throw Gilligan’s Is­land in here,’ and the guitar player starts playing it. We didn’t sit down and con­ceive of this. It was an ac­ci­dent of boredom in rehearsal.”

I think the ac­ci­dental bullseye was that the people who thought Stairway To Heaven was pro­found also hap­pened to be pot-smoking fans of Gilligan’s Is­land. It was an op­por­tu­nity for people who didn’t think it was pro­found and thought it was all bogus, it gave them an op­por­tu­nity to poke fun at it by playing it.

I mean, the thing that hap­pened in a busi­ness sense that made it so big was we were making fun of the ’70s in the ’70s, as op­posed to waiting till the next century.”


I wanna live with a Kennedy girl

In 1980, Little Roger and com­pany recorded Kennedy Girls, a spoof of Neil Young’s Cin­namon Girl. Sup­pos­edly, Young gave his blessing to the project in re­turn for a copy of Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway).

In 1995, they re­leased Fudd On The Hill, es­sen­tially Clark im­i­tating Elmer Fudd singing the Bea­tles’ Fool On The Hill. The track also fea­tured im­i­ta­tions of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

In 2000, the orig­inal recording of Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway) was reis­sued on the LAGUNA TUNES com­pi­la­tion, where it was re-titled Stairway To Gilligan’s Is­land.


LittleRoger GilligansIsland silver 1 600

LittleRoger GilligansIsland silver 2 600

LittleRoger GilligansIsland white 600

The first label above is al­most iden­tical to the second: both are dark blue with silver print. But the first one has “(32961)” on the right side be­neath “VOCAL.” This ap­pears to be the rarest ver­sion of the two, al­though that doesn’t mean it’s the first pressing. The third record is al­most iden­tical to the second ex­cept it is a lighter blue and has white print. This may be the pressing that the group kept pressing after the cease and de­sist order.

The Avid Record Collector

I could not de­ter­mine how many copies of Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway) sold or oth­er­wise es­caped the de­struct order. In the past three years (2017-2019), only six copies in at least near mint con­di­tion (NM) have sold on eBay with an av­erage price of $35. Un­for­tu­nately, most of the sellers did not men­tion which of the three press­ings they were of­fering for sale.

Ac­cording to one eBay seller, Roger Clark made fifty pic­ture sleeves by hand with a pho­to­copier. These were not made for sale but for Clark’s use. The sole doc­u­mented sale on Pop­sike was in 2013.

Sup­pos­edly, a 12” bootleg of Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway) found its way onto the col­lec­tors market after they pulled the record from re­tail sales. I could not find any ev­i­dence that this record exists.


GilligansIsland bar 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is the dock and bar at Gilligan’s Is­land, also known as Cayo Au­rora. It is a tourist at­trac­tion and part of the Bios­phere Re­serve of Guanica and man­aged by the De­part­ment of Nat­ural Re­sources. This photo was found on the Wyatt Sailing web­site, which doc­u­ments “The ad­ven­tures of LA and Susan Wyatt and their sailing kitty LuLu.”

Fi­nally, in 2005, Robert Plant was in­ter­viewed on Na­tional Public Radio and claimed that Gilligan’s Is­land (Stairway) was his fa­vorite cover of Stairway To Heaven!




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