Air Supply brings Australian power ballads to The Birchmere in Virginia

Listen to our full conversation on WTOP’s “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Air Supply (Part 1)

They form Australia’s music Mount Rushmore with The Bee Gees, AC/DC and INXS.

This Friday, the soft-rock duo Air Supply comes to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This is our first tour [since COVID],” guitarist Graham Russell told WTOP. “We’re back after 16 months. It’s really good to be back. It felt a little weird at first, but now we’re getting used to it.”

Born in Nottingham, England in 1950, Russell moved to Australia at age 18 where he met co-founder Russell Hitchcock during a stage production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“I met Russell on the first day,” Russell said. “Him and I were the only two people who didn’t know anybody, so we gravitated toward each other. We became really good friends. Once I realized he had this incredible voice, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that’s the voice I need for my songs.’ … I said to Russell, we need to create something while we’re in the show and use that to climb the ladder.”

Like the hit Biblical musical, the name “Air Supply” came to him in a dream.

“We needed a name … and we agreed whoever had the best name the next morning, we’d go with,” Russell said. “That night I had a dream. I dreamed of a massive billboard and it was totally white. On the perimeter there were all these flashing lights and lasers. In the middle there were two words: ‘Air Supply.’ … We always say it was divine intervention from ‘Superstar.'”

In fact, their self-titled debut album came out before “Superstar” even closed.

“When that first record came out, nobody knew who we were, but we were the two guys from ‘Superstar’ and that really helped us. Our first record was just beautiful, it was such a gorgeous record and it became a classic in Australian musical history. It was one of the fastest rising singles ever to go to No. 1 in Australia.”

Pretty soon, they left Australia and began touring in the U.S. in 1977.

“We opened for Rod Stewart for six months on his North American tour simply because we opened for him in Australia in ’76,” Russell said. “He liked the band so much after our first show with him that he came backstage and said, ‘I want you to open for me next year.’ We thought he was kidding. … We thought we’re gonna break there too, but we didn’t, so it brought us back to earth.”

So, they recorded another hit in Australia — “Lost in Love” in 1979.

“‘Lost in Love’ found its way to Clive Davis and he licensed the song and the rest became history,” Russell said. “At that point in 1980, we were ready to come back to the United States. … We wanted to stay in the U.S. where everything was happening. We felt we had a good chance. We had the songs, we had the voice, the timing was right, it was a new decade … and Clive got on our team and we became really close to Clive and he said, ‘Are you ready to take on the world?'”

After “Lost in Love,” Davis produced their hit “All Out of Love,” all the way to No. 2.

“When Clive heard it, he said, ‘This is going to be the second single, but you’ve got to change a line,'” Davis said. “Originally it said, ‘I’m all out of love, I want to arrest you,’ but he said that won’t fly in America. He said, ‘I’m all out of love, I’m so lost with you.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go with it,’ realizing that if Clive had a line in the song, it was going to be a massive hit, which it was. … It’s been played over 5 million times on American radio alone.”

They followed up with Jim Steinman’s power ballad “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.”

“I was a Jim Steinman fan; I love Meatloaf and all those songs,” Russell said. “We had lunch with Jim, Clive, Russell and I, and Jim said, ‘I’ve got this song, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.’ He played it and Clive said, ‘Why don’t you record it?’ … It noted a shift for us. It gave us a little more weight. … Russell sang it two days later, one take, and that was it. It became a classic.”

It reached No. 2, behind Steinman’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for Bonnie Tyler.

“That’s what stopped us from going to No. 1,” Russell said. “I called him when we went to No. 2 and I said, ‘You’ve gotta do something. Get that guy out of the top spot!’ Of course, it was his song, I was just joking, but we had a good laugh about it.”

In 2013, the Australian Recording Industry Association inducted Air Supply into its Air Supply.

“It was a great honor,” Russell said. “I thought we deserved it. We are the No. 3 band in Australian music history behind The Bee Gees and AC/DC. … I grew up with The Bee Gees, and we used to do shows with AC/DC in the pubs in Australia in the ’70s, so we know all of those guys. I’ve always thought AC/DC was the best rock ‘n roll band in the world, so we’re in great company.”

Today, Russell lives in Utah, while Hitchcock lives in California, but reunite to tour.

“We’ve been friends for 46 years and we’ve never had an argument of any kind,” Russell said. “That shows the depth of our friendship. … He likes to leave everything to me in terms of production of the albums and songs. … He just likes to get up and sing. … He’s the greatest friend you could ever wish for and the greatest partner in a band you could ever wish for.”

Today, a new generation knows their music from TV commercials and competitions.

“It’s funny, when I meet somebody on the plane and they said, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘I’m a musician,'” Russell said. “If they’re kind of young, they might say, ‘Oh, Air Supply, I’ve never heard of that band. What [songs] do you do?’ And I sing, ‘I’m all out of love,’ and they sing, ‘I’m so lost without you!’ And then they know who we are.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Air Supply (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on WTOP’s “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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