Graham Russell, Russell Hitchcock, and Chrissie Hammond were cast members of the local version of Lloyd-Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and met in May 1975 in Sydney, they formed the vocal harmony group Air Supply and began performing around their musical theatre commitments. Hammond subsequently departed to form the duo Cheetah with her sister Lindsay, and was replaced by Jeremy Paul, who would join Hitchcock and Russell to record their debut single, the haunting and evocative Graham Russell composition, Love And Other Bruises. The band recorded a demo of the song in the orchestra pit of a St. Kilda theatre (Melb), but no record companies were interested, until Peter Dawkins (below), A&R manager at CBS, heard the song and signed the band to a recording contract in September 1976. As their name implied Air Supply were a breath of fresh air in a scene crowded with pub rockers and spandex-clad glam rockers, their lineup continued to evolve with the addition of drummer Jeff Browne, guitarist Mark McEntee and keyboardist Adrian Scott.
With producer Peter Dawkins (Spectrum, Ross Ryan, Dragon) they recorded their eponymous debut album at Alberts Studios (Syd) in October 1976, the lead single was Love and Other Bruises, but the record didn’t exactly soar at first, selling a mere 917 copies to the end of the year. But slowly radio stations began to pick it up, and it hit the charts in Adelaide and Brisbane, ultimately climbing to #6 nationally to became their first top ten hit.
Their eponymous debut album also charted a creditable #17, even though the cover artwork which featured the band, dressed in all white, in a bluestone alleyway with Hitchcock holding a large reflecting globe looked curious, even pretentious. Hitchcock’s subsequent explanation didn’t really reduce the potency of the cringe factor that was the inspiration for the shot “We went into the alley simply to make people aware of where we came from, because we all come from the streets… the crystal ball symbolizes the music which is all white and pure, not aggressive at all. That’s where we get all our inspiration from, and we’re looking to the crystal ball to find a way out” (Dig- David Nicholls 2016)
The equally impressive follow-up single Empty Pages, inexplicably only crept to #43 in February 1977, although it did take until three-quarters of the way through the song to arrive at the chorus! The album was a foretaste of the harmony soft rock with which Air Supply would storm the US charts relentlessly throughout the 1980’s for no less than eight top ten hits there. In 1977 they picked up the support act spot on Rod Stewart’s tours of Australia and the United States, which afforded priceless exposure to the giant North American market, and their group evolved to include replacement drummer Nigel Macara and Brenton White (guitar).
Their second album, The Whole Thing’s Started, also produced by Peter Dawkins was released in July 1977, White had been replaced on lead guitar by former Hush axeman Les Goh, who had been one of the country’s best-known glam rockers of the 70’s, the album climbed to #32 nationally and several singles were released with only Do What You Do charting (#45). At this point album releases were no longer synchronized globally as new songs were released in Australia while material previously released here was being repackaged for the US market.
Air Supply’s third local album was Life Support (#27 in ’79), produced by Charles Fisher at the Trafalgar Studios (Syd), it contained a five and a half minute version of Russell’s composition Lost In Love which charted #13 in 1979 locally, while in the States the album Love And Other Bruises, released in 1978 was a compilation of songs already released outside the USA, and was recorded in LA in July-August 1978, with producer Jimmy Horowitz of Colombia Records, to become their debut in that market.
By 1980 Jeremy Paul (bass) and Mark McEntee (lead guitar) would depart to form the Divinyls with Chrissie Amphlett, to be replaced by Howard Sukimoto and Robin Le Mesurier respectively, and Joey Carbone took over on keyboards with the departure of Adrian Scott. The band were signed to appear alongside Chicago and Boz Scaggs at a CBS convention in London, but the course of their career path was about to change as Clive Davis (above) of Arista Records, the legendary A&R executive and record producer (Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Eric Carmen, Patti Smith, and many others) had talent-IDed the band and took them under his wing, signed them to a USD$1.5 m. international deal, and began to groom them for future success in North America.