Russell still loves the Air Supply sound

Published on August 27th, 2019

By Jim Dail

Successful songwriters and bands often have to deal with trying to equal previous successes. That’s never been on the mind of Air Supply’s Graham Russell, despite the fact that he had to do that numerous times in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“Songwriting for me has always been organic,” he said. “I’ve never even thought about if it would sound the same. I honestly never thought about it. The songs just came out, and I’ve been writing songs for 55 years. Consequently, because I’m not conscious sounding about them, I don’t think any two sound the same. They are all of the same genre, and that’s the nature of music.

Formed by Russell and Russell Hitchcock, Air Supply became chart regulars starting with “Lost in Love” in 1980.

“In the 70s, we got back opening for Rod Stewart, and we thought we’d go back to Australia and get a hero’s welcome,” he said. “We were unknown and Rod really liked us, but we had to begin all over again, but Russell and I always believed we were pre-destined to have success. We knew we could write and sing and it was going to be a journey and we’d have to claw ourselves up.”

“Lost in Love” was one of the keys to the early success in the United States.

“We had some songs and we got on a bus for a few days and played them and recorded them,” he said. “At first it was just guitar, drums and us, and then we added some piano, some keyboard, some keyboard strings. I did my vocal and he did his. We knew there was something there, and I remember playing it back to our producer and he felt the same. It did very well in Australia.”

The band got a deal with Arista Records and released their first album, “Lost in Love,” which included the hits “Every Woman in the World to Me,” the title track and “All Out of Love.”

“When we were recording ‘All Out of Love,’ we never planned who was going to sing what and I played it on piano I thought Russell should sing the whole song and he went in to sing it,” he said. “Russell said I I should sing the verse, and I went in and I was struggling with it. The producer said just keep singing, and I sang the verses and he sang the chorus.”

It’s something that has emerged at other times on record.

“The distinction was part of that magic,” he said. “Everything in the studio was a democracy. It was the case of ‘Who wants to sing this?’ It was a great, creative way to find something, and when we hit it we knew we had something.”

Since Russell is the primary songwriter, it makes sense that it starts with him.

“I’ve always been the first one to sing it,” he said. “But I always feel Russell should sing it since he is the lead singer, and he thinks I should sing it. We don’t have the same voices. I can get to an A, but his is just so much better at singing high notes.”

For Russell, one of the keys about the band’s songs is that they seem to grab the listener.

“You hear it and you want to keep listening,” he said. “I hear ‘All out of Love’ all the time on radio. My ear will just search for it, and it still sounds like such a great record. I think that’s why they still put it in movies.”

In fact, the song has been in numerous TV shows such as “South Park” and “The Office,” and a number of movies, such as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The Wedding Date” and “Deadpool 2.”

“I liked the first ‘Deadpool,’ he said. “I knew it was going to be in “Deadpool 2,” and there it was in the first few minutes with all the explosions and such and a knife in his back. I guess it can be in anything!”

Their career exploded with their next album.

“Back in those days, and I am not trying to knock anyone, if you wanted a sound you had to create it,” he said. “No one sounded like us and that’s what kept it alive. After the album was so successful, we’d tour 9 months non-stop and then go home to make a record. We came back to Los Angeles to mix it, and Clive Davis hadn’t heard any of it and he wanted to see what we had, and we were kind of freaked out.”

It turned out well.

“He said, ‘Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,’ and we played him ‘The One That You Love,’” he said. “The track finished and no one said anything because everyone was waiting for him. He then said, ‘Well, first it’s going to Number 1, and second, it’s going to win a Grammy. We breathed a big sigh of relief!”

The record was indeed a Billboard Number 1 (but no Grammy), and altogether the band has charted 8 singles in the Top 5, including “Sweet Dreams.” Even the Nights are Better” and Making Love out of Nothing at All.”

The latter was their last big hit, a production crafted by legendary writer/producer Jim Steinman of Meatloaf fame.

“It was just a different kind of song, and we all thought it was very different and thought let’s do it,” he said. “It’s a Jim Steinman song, and we met him and I’ve been a big Meatloaf fan, a big Steinman fan. If there’s a great song from a great writer and it would benefit Russell’s singing, it doesn’t have to be my song.”

It began in an ice parlor.

“We had coffee with him in this ice cream parlor in New York, and the song as written was 6 minutes long and we figured we had to trim it,” he said. “Clive said the same thing and he got it down to a good place and the E Street Band played on it. Russell did the vocals in one take. We thought maybe we should do another take, but when we played it back, we figured it was strong just as it was.”

Ironically, the song was kept from the Number 1 spot on the Billboard chart by Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” another Steinman song.

Russell credits the strength of Air Supply’s song collection to the basics of the songs.

“They aren’t just hot songs, but they hit people’s lives,” he said.

And now, their latest record is “The Lost in Love Experience,” recorded with the Prague Symphony.

“I’ve always wanted to do a full album with this orchestra because it has been considered one of the best in world,” he said. “The time came up and we jumped on it and went and recorded with them. The symphony did it in a beautiful old landmark building, the place where the soundtrack of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was recorded, and a bunch of other Academy Award-winning soundtracks.”

And the players were remarkable.

“I am a classical music fan, and the bar is set so high for those players,” he said. “Most of the players were in their ‘70s, some in their ‘80s and they were phenomenal. I think some of them knew our music.”

Ultimately, he is happy and proud of the success of Air Supply.

“We’ve had a great career,” he said. “Who would have thought we would still be out there performing and recording?”

IF YOU GO

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 14

Where: Pechanga Resort and Casino, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula

Admission: starting at $49

Information: https://www.pechanga.com/entertain/creedence-clearwater-revisited

Photo credit: Denise Truscello

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