Just when you thought you were over them, just when you thought you could stand on your own….
Air Supply is back.
Oh baby, those memories come crashing through.
The soft-rock duo fronted by guitarist Graham Russell and singer Russell Hitchcock never really went away. You remember them for feel-good platinum hits like “Lost in Love,” “Every Woman in the World,” and “Here I Am.:” just two guys who could make heartbreak sound heavenly with their laid-back rhythms and inimitable vocal harmonies. They produced the chart-toppers “All Out of Love” and “Chances,” but they also explored theatricality and cinematic bombast with “Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” “Sweat Dreams.”
Guilty pleasure? Sure. But hey, there’s no need to hide one’s affiliation as an “Airhead.”
You’d think folks would loosen up after thirty years, given the duo’s enduring legacy: Hitchcock and Russell notched a string of sterling Top 10 Billboard hits in the ’80s, sold over 100 million albums worldwide, and continue to play for capacity crowds around the globe. Their songs were inescapable during the Reagan years—becoming etched into our collective consciousness—and are regularly recycled on television (Supernatural, South Park) and in movies (Old Dogs, Van Wilder, Bad Company) today for enhanced drama and humor. Air Supply compilations and live DVDs still sell like hotcakes, though these days they more frequently assume the form of digital downloads instead of cassettes and VHS tapes.
Hitchcock and Russell were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in December 2013.
“It was a wonderful thing,” Russell told us during a phone chat last year.
“Some great artists performed, and it was nice to get that recognition finally from our home country, you know? We certainly achieved the criteria necessary to get that award, but it’s nice just to get it!”
The two friends began singing together in the mid-Seventies, when both landed roles in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ: Superstar. The shorter, afro-haired Hitchcock possessed a unique high tenor that meshed perfectly with the midrange vocals of the taller, blonde Russell—who’d just relocated to Melbourne from England with his family. Together, the aspiring songsters determined to follow in the footsteps of their musical heroes, The Beatles, and started up a band to make that dream a reality.
“It was almost like it was predestined that we work together,” surmises Russell.
“We both had a great love of The Beatles and both saw them live when we were fourteen in the other side of the world. We were born in the same month (Gemini), and share the same name (Russell). So I think the universe channeled something there, like ‘You guys really need to work together.’ So we did!”
“Love and Other Bruises” proved a minor hit in Australia, but an early version of “Lost in Love” (from the 1979 album Life Support) drew instant raves in the land down under. Recognizing the song’s massive potential, Arista Records guru Clive Davis signed the band and had them remix the track for their next album—the appropriately titled Lost in Love.
The reworked ballad broke Air Supply in the States (and around the world). Follow-up single “All Out of Love” sailed to the #2 spot on the Billboard chart, authenticating the band’s newfound success (“Every Woman in The World” topped out at #5). Capitalizing on the momentum, Hitchcock and Russell issued the albums The One That You Love, Now and Forever, and Greatest Hits in rapid succession, striking gold with “Here I Am,” “The One That You Love,” “Even the Nights Are Better,” and the Jim Steinman-penned “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” They cut a Christmas album in 1987.
Their studio and touring ensemble frequently jettisoned and took on new accompanists over the years (including future members of The Divinyls), but Hitchcock and Russell maintained the band’s musical and spiritual center. They supported Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs, and Chicago on tour before earning their own headlining gigs, where they cultivated their devoted Airhead audience one show at a time.
Radio was saturated with New Wave, hair metal, R&B, hip-hop, and grunge by the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, stacking the odds against classic rockers (Foreigner, Journey, Loverboy), folkies (Jackson Browne, James Taylor), and soft-rockers (Little River Band, Toto). Undeterred, Air Supply pressed on with the CDs like The Vanishing Race, Book of Love, and Across the Concrete Sky. The days of monster hits were gone, but neither Hitchcock nor Russell made any apologies for their eloquent tunes and emotionally-charged performances. Their 2005 “unplugged” project The Singer and the Song was a testament to how well their early material stood the test of time—even when reduced to basic components (two voices and one acoustic guitar)—and remains a personal favorite.
Hitchcock went country in 2012, teaming with producer Rob Rappaport on Tennessee: The Nashville Sessions, a two-disc set combining the best elements of A/C and outdoor chic into a breezy blend of cowboy pop. Meanwhile, Russell collaborated with L.A.-bred singer Katie McGhie on their “Of Eden” project, issuing the CD Feel in 2013.
“The great thing about Air Supply is that we both encourage each other to do different things,” muses Russell.
“I write songs every day. But Air Supply only does an album every three or four years or so now, and I need to use those songs. Russell wanted to do the Tennessee album, and I wanted to do the Of Eden album with Katie, so we did them.
“Now we’re back—not that we went anywhere—and we’re in the middle of a new Air Supply album. It really fires us up and gives us a new perspective on everything!”
The duo let a few years pass between their appearance at House of Blues Cleveland in 2005 and their triumphant return to the Akron Civic in 2013. Now they’re doubling back for another run of shows at midsize venues and concert halls across the nation.
They play the Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park (for the first time ever) on September 6th.
Hitchcock and Russell have been harmonizing for almost forty years now. And while terrestrial radio may have turned a cold shoulder to Air Supply in the ‘90s, the duo nevertheless scored another minor hit with “Dance With Me,” an up-tempo track from their last album, Mumbo Jumbo, in 2010.
Last year’s digital single “Desert Sea Sky” also turned some heads.
“It’s the first real dance track we ever released as a single, explains Russell. “It’s kind of full-on dance, remixed by two guys in England who do a lot of the big artists like Madonna and Beyonce. I think it’s going to pop a few eyes open—a dance track coming from Air Supply!”
Indeed, “Desert Sea Sky” became a club sensation after a remix makeover by British producers Wideboys. The tune also puts Hitchcock and Russell in the rare league of “legacy” acts who’ve charted original studio material in five or more decades. But—just like The Rolling Stones and Rush—these chaps refuse to rest on their laurels, returning to the studio between tours like migrant musical birds to record new Air Supply songs. Some of the new stuff, like “Desert,” ends up joining classics “All Out of Love,” “Lost in Love,” and “Every Woman in the World” on the charts—and in Air Supply concert sets.
Russell assured us that Air Supply still bridges past and present with their live concerts. In Akron, the guys rebounded from technical issue early on to deliver a bravura show that won a standing ovation. Their rhythm section was loud and tight, their keyboardist fluid and graceful, and their lead guitarist sizzled like Eddie Van Halen.
“We have Aaron McLain on guitar,” says Russell. “And we have a young guy on drums, Aviv Cohen. He’s only 29. He could be my grandchild! We have Amir Efrat on keyboards, and Jonni Lightfoot on bass.”
Air Supply may shock some ticketholders by bringing the noise and cutting loose onstage, but fans attending their gala at the Hard Rock can still expect to hear all the beloved classics.
Russell wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The ballads are something we do. We do them in the show, because we do all the hits.
“People who haven’t seen us will assume we’re kind of soft, but our live show is very intense. It’s loud, and it’s rock and roll. It gets to you. It makes you do something. It’ll make you laugh or cry, but it’ll make you do something!”
Air Supply. Saturday, September 6, 2014 at Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park (10777 Northfield Road, Northfield OH 44067). Tickets $44.85-$175.00. Doors at 7:00pm, show at 8:00pm.
Advance tickets available here: