The 1980’s proved to be a decade of US success for many Australian artists who had jettisoned plans for conquering the UK market after the resounding failure of so many local bands there in the 1960’s and 70’s – Masters Apprentices, Twilights, Axiom, Mississippi, Groove, Sherbet, the Groop all returned home from the UK wiser, but no wealthier, and promptly broke up. Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John were already established stars in the US by the early 80’s, and they opened the door for other Aussie acts to pass through, and they did – INXS, Little River Band, Icehouse, Rick Springfield (below), and Air Supply would all score numerous hits there over the decade, often cultivating an American market that proved to be more loyal and lucrative, than the local scene from which they had originated.
A California-based “Gumleaf Mafia” of performers including Billy Thorpe, Steve Kipner, Daryl Cotton, Renee Geyer, Russell Morris, and Air Supply’s Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock began to congregate in Los Angeles. They celebrated their Australianness, helped to assuage their feelings of homesickness, while at the same time bathing in the reflected glow of Antipodean nostalgia, sharing music and creative ideas as well as marijuana, and working towards achieving their big break in the burgeoning US market. Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock came from very different backgrounds, Russell was an English emigrant to Australia in the 1960’s and Hitchcock a working class lad from the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. While Russell would write most of their hits, Hitchcock, who was blessed with a soaring tenor voice, never contributed to Air Supply’s songwriting over the forty years of their shared career, which was a remarkably harmonious partnership between two men who were quite different personalities. Left to right Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell with the unflattering hairstyle.
Graham Russell (1950) was born in Arnold, Nottingham (UK) and taught himself to play the guitar and drums, his mother died when he was only 10 years old, and he was so traumatised by this that he lost his voice, and became a loner. For three months he could only communicate by writing notes, a practice that he later perfected when composing music, and rhyming lyrics. His father decided to emigrate to Australia but young Graham refused to go, and at 14 years of age he ran away from home and ended up living with one of his maternal uncles, he immersed himself in music and the poetry of Shelley, Keats, and Byron. But by 1963 he was inspired by the Beatles and in 1964 he formed his first covers beat band Union Blues, as their drummer. In 1968 he emigrated to Melbourne (Aust) and was reunited with his family, began performing solo and with various bands around the disco/dance circuit which was thriving in the city at that time; by 1975 he was a member of the cast of Lloyd-Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Sydney, where he met fellow cast member Russell Hitchcock.
Russell Hitchcock (1949) was born and raised in Brunswick, a working-class suburb in Melbourne’s north -west on the fringes of the CBD, he attended the local primary school and the Princes Hill High School in Carlton North. A self-taught drummer who possessed an impressive tenor voice, he was a diminutive 1.7m (5ft 7inches), but good-looking young man, who would ultimately marry three times, and like Russell, live most of his adult life in America.
Fellow classmate Chris Lofven (above), who would become a film director and create two of the most iconic video clips of the early1970’s – Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock, and Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone – invited Hitchcock to join a rock and roll covers band called 19th Generation, who performed at gigs around Melbourne. Upon leaving school in 1965 he took up a job as a salesman, and transferred to Sydney in a new position with a computer company, by 1975 he had joined the cast of JCS, gigging on the side with other cast members Graham Russell and Chrissie Hammond (below).
The group would be joined by bass player/singer Jeremy Paul as a replacement for Hammond, who left to join her sister Lindsay and form the sex bomb duo Cheetah, who would record Bang Bang (Shot Full of Love) and Spend The Night, for Alberts Music, this was a dramatic transformation for Chrissie, who had played Mary Magdalene in Superstar.
The band would struggle to hit the charts in Australia until Peter Dawkins of CBS saw their potential, signed them to a recording contract in 1978, and helmed the production of their first hit, the dramatic and evocative Love and Other Bruises. This was first time that the romantic words and music of Graham Russell would be matched with the lush orchestration of producer Dawkins and the soaring, theatrical tenor of Russell Hitchcock. Their next album and the title song Lost in Love would break the band in the US, and generate two more top 5 hits in 1980, All Out Of Love, and Every Woman In The World, Air Supply would take eight original songs into the US top ten in the period 1980-1985, and become one of the most successful groups of the decade.
Air Supply never really got the respect they deserved in their home country, despite dominating US charts throughout the 80’s, and developing a huge fanbase in Asia – soft rock, yacht rock, ballad rock, even yawn rock – were the irrelevent tags bandied around, about a group that produced some of the finest examples of their genre and sold in excess of 20 million records globally , taking The One That You Love to a US #1 in 1981, and being inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2013.