Air Supply: Not “All Out of Love” Quite Yet
It’s the mid-1970’s and an aspiring British songwriter and musician, looking for a new start for himself and his young family, traveled to the land down under to pursue his dreams of someday recording one of his original works. Needing to pay the bills and feed his children, he auditioned for Sydney’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar;” promptly scoring a part in the popular new musical. One day at rehearsal, the songwriter is taken aback by a small, unassuming performer from Melbourne who, despite being cast in a minor, non-musical role, was asked to sing in front of the group. As fate would have it, he had a voice as big as his curly brown afro (it was the seventies, after all) and our songwriter hero knew he had found the perfect singer to bring his music to life.
This isn’t the plot of a movie opening at Sundance; it’s the moment of inception of one of the most iconic bands of the 1980s; a duo whose music would help define the romantic struggles of an entire generation. This was at that moment Air Supply was born.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with that songwriter, Graham Russell, about how he has sustained a forty-year friendship with the singer, Russell Hitchcock; a relationship that would anchor a lifetime of music.
“Our [friendship] is just the only thing we’ve really known,” Russell said. “We’re not in competition with each other so there’s no egos involved. He doesn’t write songs and I don’t want to be the guy out in front singing so it’s always just worked.”
Appearing on stage at Harrah’s Southern California Resort on February 16th, the members of Air Supply can boast seventeen studio albums, which have spawned dozens of Billboard hits like “Lost in Love,” “Here I Am (The One That You Love)” and “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.” Their consistent tour schedule has garnered legions of fans all over the world and, in 2013, they were even inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame. Each of these accomplishments is that much more impressive if you know about their humble beginnings.
“We did it against all the odds. Russell [Hitchcock] and I both come from very modest, working-class backgrounds and we are both very proud of where we came from and of our success,” Russell said. “When we first came to the United States, we were that Australian band who spoke really funny and it was assumed that we wouldn’t be around very long. But we proved them wrong and we’re sitting here now, looking back at things, and saying that we did it by writing and performing and recording great songs. That’s what we do and that’s how we got to where we are.”
And who they are is a band whose music is now an adult contemporary radio staple, where it would be close to impossible for anyone to listen to the genre on Pandora for an hour and not hear at least one Air Supply song.
But there was a time where Air Supply was an unknown pair of musicians from the other side of the globe, struggling to get their start. Flash forward to 1980 and it was (I imagine) somewhere between Studio City and Sherman Oaks where they realized their lives had changed forever.
“Russell and I were being driven down the 101 freeway in Los Angeles and we were very new to the United States and everything was so different and so big,” Russell said. “We were these two young, innocent guys – one from Australia and one from England- with our eyes and our jaws wide open. We knew that a radio station had agreed to play ‘Lost in Love’ but we didn’t know when or how much and so we waited. And as soon as I heard it, it just sounded so good and was so different and so fresh that we knew then that it was going to pop, as they say. Everyone embraced it and I knew it was going to happen for us.”
But how have things changed in the four decades since being serenaded through the San Fernando Valley by their first radio hit?
“We’ve sort of been up and down the whole time, but we’ve now come to a point where everyone knows who we are and we don’t have to prove ourselves anymore,” Russell said. “We just do our thing and, although we know some people don’t care for it and that’s okay, we still sell out every show. People come to an Air Supply show because they want to hear our music. We’re not an unknown entity anymore.”
Continuing to write every day, whether it be a song, poem, or other prose, Russell is inspired by just waking up every morning and appreciating the blessings in his life. As he spoke about the fact that he’ll never stop writing new songs, I asked him what it’s like to know that the music legacy of Air Supply will live on long after the mortal version has been silenced.
“I spend a lot of time contemplating that very question and I think the 40-year anniversary has especially made me think about it,” he said. “We’ve been around this long in an industry that is famous for devouring people and making them disappear into oblivion. The advice I give to anyone starting out is that you’ve got to have great songs and a great singer and, in my opinion, we had both so we had a lot of ammunition on our side.”
Though there is always more music to be made and countless new, younger bands trying to break their way into the business, it’s the enduring friendship of Russell and Hitchcock has always been the binding element in the fabric of Air Supply’s musical longevity. Their mutual appreciation for the talent of the other half allows them to share the fruits of that partnership with past, present as well as the inevitable future fan, still waiting to discover their timelessness.
“We’d love to have another number one record, or five more #1 records and I don’t know if those things are going to happen, but we are very happy with where we are in our careers right now,” Russell said. “We love our jobs very much and the fact that we can go all over the world and bring a lot of joy to people after all these years, I think that’s the greatest reward.”
* A version of this story was originally published on June 18, 2015.