The music that will fill the air this weekend with the return of Air Supply to the area is sure to bring back memories of the love songs that ruled the airwaves in the 1980s – hits like “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love” and “The One That You Love.”
Clearly there’s a lot of love when it comes to the melodic duo from Down Under, who wrote and recorded these cherished classics.
Comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Graham Russell and lead vocalist Russell Hitchcock, Air Supply has had a succession of top-charting songs since they formed in 1975.
And given that the twosome play more than 150 worldwide concerts every year, it’s also clear that their fans aren’t in short supply.
Now, in the midst of an extensive U.S. tour that includes a performance at the Theatre at Westbury on Saturday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m., Graham Russell took some time for an interview to discuss Air Supply’s celebrated career and how it all began.
Russell and Hitchcock met on the first day of rehearsals for the Australian musical production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Sydney back in ‘75.
“The rest of the cast had been in other shows so they knew each other. We were kind of the oddballs so we gravitated toward each other,” Russell said. “Once we got to talking, we realized that we were born three days apart, we have the same name, and we’d both seen the Beatles when we were 14 years old.”
It was his love for the Beatles that led Russell to start writing songs at the age of 11.
“Once I realized what a great voice Russell had I thought, ‘Oh my, I need to work with this guy.’ I felt then, at that early stage, that he was the perfect voice for my songs.”
The two began performing harmonies together at local coffee bars and nightclubs and soon recorded two songs on a cassette player that they shopped around to Australian record companies.
“They all said no, but the very last one, which was a new company — it was actually CBS — they said they were going to give us a shot,” Russell said.
Once Russell and Hitchcock signed with CBS Records, they needed to think of a name – and fast.
“The record was coming out in a week and we needed a name so we said whoever had the best name in the morning we must go with it.”
The next morning, Hitchcock said he didn’t have any ideas so Russell shared his well-timed vision.
“I had a dream about a big billboard that was totally white and all on the perimeter of it were these lights flashing… and in the middle of the billboard were two words in black, ‘air supply’… so we went with it.”
The label supplied them with their first No. 1 single, “Love and Other Bruises,” on the Kent Music Report, the Australian weekly music chart back then.
“So we really were thrown into the deep end suddenly,” Russell recalls of their first year and album together.
Then when British rocker Rod Stewart asked Air Supply to open for him in Australia, it seemed like it was sky’s the limit for them.
“We thought we were all dreaming,” Russell said. “I mean, Rod Stewart was the biggest act in the world… and suddenly we were playing for him.”
After the first show in Australia in 1976, Stewart asked them to join his North American tour the following year.
Taking a six-month break from their recording career to tour with Stewart in the U.S. and Canada, the two were surprised by the reaction when they returned home to Australia.
“We thought we were going to get a hero’s welcome… but everybody had completely forgotten about us,” Russell recalls. “We were so dejected and we thought, ‘Oh my God, we just toured with the biggest act on the planet and nobody even knows us.’”
But it was their visit to America and strong desire to get back there that resuscitated their creative drive.
“We were broke. We had shows to do, but we were making about $20 a week after we paid for everything… I think a lot of people in that instance would have given up and gotten a day job, but it made us more tenacious,” Russell said. “So I went away and started writing some songs.”
One of these new songs, “Lost in Love,” reflected how lost the duo felt at the time — but it would also help them find their way back to stardom.
“We weren’t in love with anyone, we were just in love with the fact that we wanted to get back to the U.S. and we wanted to be successful,” Russell said.
“Lost in Love” would top the charts in Australia in 1978 and catapult Air Supply’s career once New York music executive Clive Davis caught wind of the hit, signing Air Supply to Arista Records in 1980.
“Once Clive came along, everything changed and it was a great relief to know that somebody was acknowledging our songs… because I always believed that we made great records,” Russell said. “They weren’t for everyone, but I knew we sounded really good. Not only that, we created our own sound. We were always very proud of that.”
In 1980, “Lost in Love” became one of the fastest-selling singles in the world, and peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 here in the U.S.
The same-titled album included the second track, “All Out of Love,” that rose even higher to No. 2.
Russell admits this may be his favorite of their songs.
“In those days, there were a lot of one-hit wonders and I think people were ready for us to fail again,” he said. “Then we came out with ‘All Out of Love’ and everybody just flipped out and went, ‘Oh my God, these guys are going to be around for a while.’”
Air Supply did stick around — for more than four decades, earning numerous distinctions and awards.
Their “Lost in Love” and subsequent albums, “The One That You Love,” “Now and Forever” and their Greatest Hits release in 1983, sold more than 20 million copies and introduced more popular songs, such as “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You),” “Sweet Dreams,” “Even the Nights Are Better” and another mega-hit, “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” that sold more than 7 million copies.
In 1982, Air Supply had seven consecutive top-five singles, tying the same number as the band who inspired their musical career, the Beatles.
“So for that one small instance we were mentioned with the Beatles in the same sentence, which for us was like incredible… probably the most exhilarating thing in our career,” Russell said.
In Dec. 2013, the Australian Recording Industry Association inducted Air Supply into their Hall of Fame, recognizing the contribution they’ve made in the world of pop music.
And over the years, Air Supply has toured to places where no other bands had been before.
During the ‘80s, they were the first Western group to visit China and Southeast Asia, where they continue to have a devoted following.
In 2005, they became one of the first foreign bands invited to perform in Cuba.
The concert drew a record-breaking 175,000 people despite the strong winds on the eve of Hurricane Dennis.
Air Supply has traveled throughout Europe and to South America, with Dublin, Ireland and Buenos Aires in Argentina two of Russell’s favorite places to visit.
Once they finish up their current U.S. tour in Nov., they will head to Hong Kong and Asia for a string of shows to finish out the year and then start right back up in 2018 with another European tour.
Next June, they plan to go back to Australia, where they will record with a symphony orchestra for the first time.
Air Supply’s global tours don’t seem to stop.
Nor does their songwriting — and the two often go hand and hand.
Following the long-awaited release of their 17th album, Mumbo Jumbo, in 2010, they delivered two new iTunes singles, “Sanctuary” and “Everywhere,” featured on their Live in Jerusalem, Israel DVD in 2012.
“There’s a story everywhere I think if you really look and you’re open to it,” Russell said when describing how he likes to walk the streets in all the places that he visits and what inspires his songs.
“I’m a great believer that songs and music are in the atmosphere and you’ve got to be in that place in your mind to just take it out of thin air and it will come to you,” he said. “I know McCartney works in a very similar way. He just starts playing and words come out so I’m kind of in good company there.”
Just as his words and melodies come together seamlessly, so does the working relationship between Russell and Hitchcock.
“I’m a songwriter by profession and I happen to sing and play guitar and piano, but my main strength is in writing songs and Russell’s strength is singing my songs and we’ve never forgotten that,” he said. “It’s just a perfect relationship. We never argued because there’s no ego involved… it’s such a beautiful thing to have (and) we’re very aware that it works.”
So while Air Supply has had acclaimed accompanying musicians and singers over the years, their ascent has always relied on the veracity of Russell’s lyrics and the power of Hitchcock’s soaring voice.
Fans on Long Island can experience the music and share in the love that is Air Supply at their concert this weekend.
The Theatre at Westbury is located at 960 Brush Hollow Road in Westbury.
To obtain tickets and for more information, go to www.thetheatreatwestbury.com.