When you think of classic bands, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply may not come quickly to mind…but they should. After a string of hit songs and records in the 80s, the band evolved their sound continued to be a successful touring act all over the world. They celebrated their 45th anniversary during the pandemic year of 2020 and are now ready to hit the road and celebrate with fans. Guitarist and songwriter Graham Russell recently took some time to talk about the tour and their amazing career.
Please press PLAY for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Graham Russell of Air Supply.
On whether he thought his partnership with Russell Hitchcock would last 45+ years –No, definitely not. I think our greatest ambition was probably to make a record that we could give to our grandchildren and maybe be together for a year or so. We’re probably the two most unlikely people that would achieve any success. I came from a little town in Nottingham in the center of England, a coal-mining town, and Russell came from Melbourne, Australia. But as far as fate would have it, we were thrown together. We’ve always thought it was predestined, that we worked together and it happened for us with a lot of hard work. So we’re very thankful for it. 1:24
On whether Air Supply was envisioned as a band or a duo – Well, both, actually. When we met, it was just Russell and I, when we met in Jesus Christ Superstar. But we needed a band and we put a band together. At that point, we said, “Well, let’s have everybody involved in the whole thing”. There really was no other way to keep musicians unless they were involved. The band stayed the same for quite a few years. Then people started to drift away. So we thought it would be easier than for Russell and I to have the identity of the band because it’s very difficult to keep a band’s identity if there’s like seven members, so let’s make it easy. I was a songwriter and he was the voice. So it was an easy decision to make and it became a part of the course after that, it was easy for people to grab onto a face or two faces, kind of like Hall & Oates or Simon and Garfunkel, if you like. 2:30
On whether Air Supply’s success in America surprised them – We both were very surprised. However, you know, we began we started to play 1976 and we had very quick success in Australia, so we kind of gotten used to it. One of our very first shows in Australia was on the steps of the Opera House to ninety thousand people. So we kind of went to the “school of rock” really quickly. We were in Superstar, which taught us a lot of things about theater. Then we opened for Rod Stewart. We learned from Rod about how to be professional and how to handle an audience and really what to do on stage. So we were thrown together, quickly we learned everything. Before that we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we just did it. So we learned pretty quickly. So we had grown accustomed to quick success, although after after opening for Rod, we thought, “Oh, yeah, we’re hopefully we’re going to break in America”, but we didn’t. So we were brought back down to earth and we had to start again. But it was very good for us. We got back in the trenches and we have to work really, really hard to do things, which we did. That’s what we became really good at. We became very resilient. Even in those early years. People weren’t very kind to us in the press, probably because of the music, the music was a lot of big ballads. There was a little resistance. But nevertheless, we achieved success anyway. So it was great for us. 5:01
On recording “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and working with Jim Steinman – Well, it was Clive (Davis’) idea. In 1983, Clive said we need to put the Greatest Hits out. We only had three albums and we fought that. Russell and I said, “No, a Greatest Hits is something you have after 15 or 20 years”. We had three years and Clive said, “No, it’s the right time”, he said, “I want you to listen to this track”, because it was a quick decision. He said, “I think this track would be great on the album, too”. It was Jim’s song and it was quite long when we first heard it. At that point we weren’t really doing anybody else’s songs, but we weren’t opposed to it. It was just the way it was. Plus, I think Russell certainly at that point, he needed to sing other people’s songs, not just mine, because his voice should be heard in all different kind of genres. So here’s this song, “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”, it was a rock and roll song and a big epic ballad in true Steinmann fashion. The first time I heard it I went, “Oh wow, here’s a genius Steinmann song and we had the chance to do it”. We said, “Yeah let’s do it”. We met Jim in Rumplemayer’s in New York. It’s an ice cream shop and we met him and he’s sitting in the corner and he had these big leather gloves right up past his elbow, he was a really strange guy, he had the hair and everything, but he was such a warm, affectionate person, not like the persona he gave. We said, “Well, Clive gave us the song, are you OK if we do it?” He said, “Yeah, we’d be great”. He produced it and. After meeting him, two days later, we were in the studio and he’d hired the E Street Band, Springsteen’s band, and we were kind of in awe of those guys. A funny thing happened. They got the track pretty fast. Then Russell went in to sing and he knew the song. I sat next to Jim at the console. They pressed play. I said to Jim, “Make sure you press record at the same time instead of doing a few runs”. Russell sang the song one time through, and Jim turned to me and he said, “That was fabulous”. I said, “Yeah, I know”. He said, “I think that’s the take”. I said, “Yeah, I think it is, too”. That was it, it was one take. We listen back and Jim was trying to listen to hear imperfections, he says, “It’s fabulous”. There’s something about when you get something one take, even though you can go back and get other takes, there’s something about there’s an energy in that one take, when you can get it, that you can’t get on other takes. There’s just an energy, a fire and passion and Russell had that and it was just incredible to to hear it. I was used to it. We sang “The One That You lLove”first take, too. In those days, that’s how we recorded, everything was live. There were no tuning machines in the those days, you sang the song from top to bottom the way it was. If your voice gave out, it gave out. But you had to be prepared and to get in the trenches. But that was a great moment in my personal history of working with Steinman, and we kept in touch after that. He’s just a genius. You talk about his rabbit hole, I was already down there because I was I was a big Meat Loaf fan, it’s so theatrical and just unique, a unique songwriter that I was very privileged to meet. 7:36
On the Air Supply record and covering “Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)” – To be quite honest, I’d never heard the song before. Clive had a way of saying things. If he said, “have a listen to this song, if you would want to cover it”. We weren’t really into covering songs at that point. We were kind of new and we had a lot of songs anyway. But f Clive said that to you, he was (really) saying, “Why don’t you cover this song?” We covered it. But it was a good song and it was a Springsteen song. I mean, who doesn’t like Springsteen? The problem with it, it’s all about the boardwalk in New Jersey, and we’ve never even been there. So it was a bit weird, I think if we felt that we were kind of betraying people a bit because we never (were there). However, it was cool and we went with the flow and we got to work with Bob Ezrin and all these great people, and it was very cool to be in the studio with these legendary people. It really was. But I agree that album didn’t get the credit it deserved. But we had incredible success at that point. We thought, “Oh, maybe the tide is turning”. We didn’t think, “Oh, we should have more success”. We had plenty to last a lifetime, so we were fine with it. Plus, at that point, it was all about the music and making great music and working with great people. I mean, Ezrin, he was already a legend, Pink Floyd and then his association with U2. So it was great for us and we loved it. We just went along for the ridet. 12:47
On dealing with not having radio success anymore –At first it was a bit a bit strange because we got used to so much airplay. We were still getting the airplay, but it was all the old songs and that was an era. It was a time, and that time had changed for us. We have to come to grips with it. Once we did, it was OK because for us, we really love playing live and our audience has been there for five decades now and I think they always will be. As long as we put out albums that mean something to us, they’re going to mean something to the fans. You mentioned The Vanishing Race, which I thought was a great record. On there, we worked with Humberto Gatica, who was the most famous engineer in the world at the time, and he was wonderful. We worked with David Foster on “Goodbye”. So we were still making great music. Plus, at that point, we could do whatever we wanted. We just felt that it was time for us to just make records. If we wanted to make a record, we’d make one. There was no pressure and there was no pressure with anything at all. But all we wanted to do was concentrate on our live show to have a great show and to entertain people. That’s what it became all about for us. 15:17
On the current Air Supply live show and live record with the Prague Symphony Orchestra – We put a lot of thought into our live show, and it’s a rock and roll show. It’s funny because when people see it for the first time, they expect something else. They expect something other than what it is. I could see it on their faces and I would point to them and say, “You’ve never seen us before”. It’s loud and it’s passionate and it’s just got something. people are laughing and crying in the audience. That’s what it’s all about. Take people on a ride with their emotions. That particular album with the Prague Symphony, we’d always wanted to make that record and it just became available to us. The guy that turned us on to the Prague Symphony, said, “Well, they have a window, the window is a certain time, a two-week window”, he said, “Do you want to take it?” I said, “Yeah, I want to take it”. We made everything work. Funnily enough, the songs just came alive again with those guys. I think because our music over the years has become, it’s always so classical. It’s very orchestra friendly. It always has been. That was the peak for us. I don’t know if we could make another orchestral record that was as good as that. Being in the studio in Prague, we recorded in the studio where the soundtrack to Lawrence of Arabia was recorded, for instance, in the second ’61 or ’62 and all this history. I just sat in this massive room and I remember sitting in the middle of the room the day before all the players came in and all the instruments were there and they were timpanis and gongs from the sixties and it was just incredible. The actual console was from the sixties and it was like something out of Abbey Road. But wow, the sound when they played, I was just in heaven and I thought, “I’ve arrived. This is it now”. So I don’t know. It’s going to be hard to top that mountain. 17:13
On if the theme of the tour is Air Supply’s 45th anniversary – It is, and it’s our gratitude to the fans for bringing us here because really it’s all about them. Over the years, our fans have always been there and they they’ve stuck with us through thick and thin and through personal things that Russell go through individually. They just stick with us and they’re always there. So we’re going to hope to give back on this tour. We’ve played one or two shows, but nothing like we’re going to. We’re going to give everything back now and prove to people that we’ve still got what it takes, because we can’t wait to get out of play again. 19:45
On new Air Supply music – We’re starting to talk about that now. It is a long time between records for us, but I think we’re going to do we’ll probably just release single tracks for the moment because it has changed so much. I don’t know if people buy CDs anymore. I know they do for like Taylor Swift or U2, but we’re not on that level. But for a band on the level that we’re at, I think the single releases is going to be the thing for us. 20:50