Rock Duo Air Supply Floats into Cincinnati's Hard Rock Casino on March 4

Nearly 40 years after meeting, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock are still reveling in their success.

Feb 22, 2023 at 5:22 am
click to enlarge Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell of Air Supply - Photo: Denise Truscello
Photo: Denise Truscello
Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell of Air Supply

This story is featured in CityBeat's Feb. 22 print issue.

Early in their partnership in Air Supply, guitarist Graham Russell and singer Russell Hitchcock got a harsh lesson in how fleeting success can be in the world of music.

The two met in Sydney, Australia when they landed gigs in the chorus for a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1975. They hit it off so famously that almost immediately, they began spending time between Superstar rehearsals and performances working together on songs Russell had been writing.

“We both said together, are you interested in creating a band together?” Russell recalled during a phone interview. “And we said let’s use our time in Superstar to create a band, so when Superstar ended, which would be 18 months down the line, we had something to go to.”

Their first year-plus was nothing short of magical for the duo, who will play Cincinnati’s Hard Rock Casino on March 4. While they toured in Jesus Christ Superstar, they were restricted from promoting themselves. But Russell and Hitchcock wrote and recorded songs and played some gigs while keeping their identities on the down low. They even released a single, “Love and Other Bruises,” which caught on with radio in Australia and became a chart-topping hit in 1976. This led to recording a self-titled debut album, which went to the top of the country’s album charts just as the duo was wrapping up their stint in the musical.

“It was so bizarre. We just left Superstar a couple of days [earlier]. We have the No. 1 single, and the next week we had the No. 1 album,” Russell said. “And one of our very first shows, because it was at the end of the year [1976] and we had this big hit single, they asked us to perform at the [Sydney] Opera House on the steps for 90,000 people.”

“We hardly had put the band together. We didn’t know what we were doing,” he added. “We had a good set. We played all of the songs from the first album, which at that point had only just come out. So for us, we thought ‘Oh my, this is great. This is how it happens all the time.’”

That good fortune continued. Rod Stewart had an Australian tour booked and noted that Air Supply had the country’s No. 1 single and album, so he asked Air Supply to open for him. Things meshed, and soon Russell and Hitchcock were off to America and Canada, extending their run as openers on Stewart’s tour.

Then came the reality check.

“We toured with Rod and we thought we’d come back to a hero’s welcome, ticker tape and the whole thing,” Russell said. “But they had forgotten about us.”

The pair couldn’t get gigs. Russell tried to sell some of his songs, to no avail, and before long they were basically dirt poor.

“But the great thing about that, which we didn’t realize at the time, was this: it made us dig in,” Russell said. “We didn’t give up and say, ‘Oh, that was great, playing with Rod, we had a big album, a big single. And now we’re going to get a regular job.’”

“No, we dug in,” Russel continued. “We dug in the trenches and we said, ‘No, we’re going to get back there’ because we’d already been to the U.S. with Rod, obviously, and we wanted to get back there. We didn’t want to be the biggest band in Australia. We wanted to be the biggest band in the world.”

Russell set out to write new songs, and that group of 15 or so included familiar tunes like “All Out of Love,” “Chances,” “The Woman You Love” and “Lost In Love.” The latter song was released as a single in Australia in 1979, and the magic returned.

“It was a big hit again [in Australia],” Russell said. “But we still didn’t make any money. It wasn’t until Clive [David] heard the record, and unknown to us, bought the record, bought the rights, and released it.”

Davis is a record-industry legend known for helping to launch the careers of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston and numerous others. He was president of Arista Records at the time and had yet to contact Russell or Hitchcock, so Russell took the initiative.

“I called him up and I said ‘Is this Clive Davis?’ He said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘This is Graham Russell from Air Supply.’ And I actually reversed the charges. I didn’t have any money,” Russell recalled. “He said ‘Where are you?’ I said ‘I’m in France because I went to a publishing convention,’ which I missed because I got sick. He said ‘What are you doing there? Get back to Australia. We need that album straight away.’ And that was my introduction to Clive.”

It turned out Davis had big plans for Air Supply. On his way back to Australia, Russell stopped in Los Angeles to meet Davis in person, and that’s when he began to sense the magnitude of what was about to happen.

“He [Davis] said, ‘Lost In Love’ is going to be the biggest song of the year,’” Russell said. “I couldn’t really believe that, but he said it. He said ‘Get back there. Your career is about to take off.’”

And did it ever. The anthemic pop ballad sound of “Lost In Love” registered worldwide, starting a string of hits that turned Air Supply into one of the biggest acts of the ‘80s.

Over the next six-plus years, Air Supply followed the double-platinum 1980 Lost In Love album with four more studio albums, three of which went platinum or gold. The duo spun out hits like “All Out of Love,” “Every Woman in the World,” “The One That You Love,” “Here I Am,” “Even the Nights Are Better, “Two Less Lonely People in the World” and “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” of which went to No. 5 or better in the United States.

The hits dried up toward the end of the ‘80s, but Air Supply kept touring with new albums and had major success over the decade-plus that followed in Asia, South America, India and elsewhere.

Over the past ten years or so, Russell and Hitchcock have seen a resurgence in their popularity in the United States. They continue to perform roughly 130 shows each year in a six-piece band format, surprising fans with a live show that’s more robust and energetic than the studio versions of their songs might suggest.

“It’s a rock-and-roll band in whatever form. We just play a lot of big, epic ballad songs, but we play a lot of other stuff, too that everyone knows,” Russell said. “But in essence, it’s a rock-and-roll band, and it’s loud and powerful. For the people that think it’s going to be Peter, Paul and Mary, they’re very much surprised.”

Air Supply plays Hard Rock Casino at 8 p.m. March 4. Info:

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