In the early 1980s, my dear friend Dena and I were lucky enough to attend our first concert. We had just become teenagers and were ready for this big milestone, ready to see our FAVORITE BAND EVER, as we probably wrote in our notebooks — Air Supply.
Her parents, saints that they were, piled us in the car in our 80s fashion finest and we headed on the long drive down the Garden State Parkway to Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City.
The concert was wonderful and exciting, and afterward, clutching our enormous programs filled with photos ready for (actual, physical) wall-posting, we headed to the exit.
Suddenly, Dena’s father urged us to run! Hurry up! Quickly.
Without knowing why, we followed, until we turned the corner to see one half of the famed Air Supply duo, Graham Russell, standing in the lobby, close enough for us to walk up and say hi.
Greeted by this miraculous benevolence of luck for our first concert, we did the only thing we could do as 13-year-old girls given such an opportunity.
We ran and hid behind a pole.
To this day, I think we were just overwhelmed by adrenalin. Dena’s father, naturally, was perplexed but didn’t have time to argue. He grabbed our programs for us and after getting caught in a slapstick moment by the hotel desk pen chain, managed to obtain for us the treasured autograph.
Thirty-five years later (but who’s counting), I managed to finally rectify that lost opportunity by having a conversation with Russell for the HAN Network in light of Air Supply’s upcoming performance at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
The show, on May 11, will mark the anniversary of Russell and the other half of Air Supply, Russell Hitchcock, meeting for the first time — on May 12, 1975, the first day of rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar in Sydney, Australia. They became instant friends with their common love for the Beatles and, of course, singing.
Seven top-five singles later, Air Supply at that time had equaled the Beatles’ run of consecutive top five singles. The albums Lost in Love, The One That You Love, Now & Forever, and The Greatest Hits sold in excess of 20 million copies. Lost in Love was named Song of the Year in 1980, and, with the other singles, sold more than 10 million copies.
In our talk, Russell explained why he thinks the band, and the partnership, has had staying power.
“We love working together and we love to play live and protect that at all costs. We don’t compete with each other,” he said.
“I don’t want to be the lead singer, Russell [Hitchcock] doesn’t want to write songs. So that’s a perfect team. There are no egos involved,” he said.
A native of England, Russell got his start in music by teaching himself to play guitar and piano, as well as how to sing — and was inspired by some other musical countrymen — the Beatles.
“The Beatles were just one great song after another,” he said. “And I thought, what a great thing to aspire to. Not only to be a songwriter but to be an incredible songwriter.”
“I don’t know if I’ve achieved that goal, but to have a Lennon and McCartney, who I believe are the greatest songwriters ever, to be people I look up to and admire was a great thing for me,” he said.
Picking a favorite song he’s composed of Air Supply’s hits is tough for Russell, he said, because he loves them all.
“Probably the most famous song is All Out of Love, which was released in 1978 — quite a long time ago, 40 years. The song has been a great evergreen song for me. It is certainly my most famous song,” he said.
Achieving those types of song-writing goals, he said, tells him he’s doing the right thing and that his notoriety as a songwriter will continue for a long time. Russell said he still picks up his guitar and writes songs, or elements of songs, every morning for three hours as part of his daily routine.
Part of Air Supply’s longevity, in addition to the strength of Hitchcock and Russell’s partnership, and the strength of their music, is their worldwide fan dedication.
Russell attributes that to the relatability of the concepts in their songs and of the two men themselves.
“Russell and I haven’t had any great training in the music world. We are both self-taught. And the songs are very simple. They aren’t preachy. They are songs that people can relate to,” he said.
He describes himself and Hitchcock as “very normal people.”
“We talk and mingle with our fans during and after the show. We are approachable. It’s not like we’re getting on a private plane to somewhere. We talk to everyone,” he said.
Speaking of fans, those attending the Ridgefield Playhouse, and any shows that week, will be getting a special treat in honor of celebrating the anniversary of the Air Supply duo meeting.
Russell said they plan to perform his song Love and Other Bruises, the first song they recorded as a team.
“We don’t normally play it because it was so long ago and was only a hit in Australia. We’re going to play it all week so people can have a listen and try to understand how it all began,” he said.
“It’s a great thing for a songwriter — to infuse energy and passion into people coming up through the ranks,” he said. “Hopefully there will be another band to take over from us when we do retire — if we do retire.”
That retirement isn’t coming anytime soon, he said, given that he and Hitchcock are still “feeling great.”
“We sell out every venue we play in the world. We’re doing very well. We’re in a good place right now. We don’t have anything to prove anymore. People know who we are — and they know what they are going to get,” Russell said.
And what’s that?
“They’re going to get a lot of hit songs, and great songs — that’s what we love to do. We put a lot of passion into what we love. Getting on stage is our one goal,” he said.
My goal will be trying not to hide behind a pole this time.