Gary James' Interview With Russell Hitchcock Of
Air Supply is one of those groups that have been around for nearly four decades and are still together! They tour the world performing in the US, England, Ireland, Israel, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and Canada. They've just released a new DVD recorded in Israel.
Air Supply's Russell Hitchcock spoke with us about that DVD and the history of the group.
Q - Russell, I take it Air Supply has a pretty big fan base in Israel.
A - We're pretty much lucky right now, because we go all over the world and we've been to Israel two or three times and the last time we were there; every five or six years we like to record something 'live' so people are up to date with how we sound and what we are doing. Obviously it's a bit of an exotic location. It was a great chance to record the show as it was. Actually about a year and a bit now, but it's as current as we can deliver to people having seen us before or fans that can't get to the show. It's always great to put that stuff out, for the fans especially.
Q - You're traveling schedule is just amazing. You do 150 dates all over the world each and every year.
A - Yeah.
Q - When you do that much touring, how do you find the time to write?
A - Well, I'm lucky in this regard that I don't write. Graham does all the songwriting. (Laughs). So, it's his responsibility, but having said that, we travel as much as we do and there's not a day that goes by that he's not on a plane, or a bus, or in a hotel room or a gig, with a pen in his hand and pad, or his iPad or recording device. He writes something pretty much every day of his life. So when it comes time to do new projects, we are never in a position and never have been, sitting around going, "What are we going to record?" Because he writes incredibly well, incredibly quickly and obviously classic material.
Q - If he's writing all the material, it doesn't cause any problems when it comes to publishing?
A - Not at all. We've never, and this is well written, we've worked together 38 years this year (2013) and we've never had a disagreement about what we're doing and how we should do it or the music or who's going to have their song on the record. Never an issue for us. I've known my role within Air Supply as he does and it's a complementary relationship to the highest degree.
Q - How fortunate you are to have found someone you can get along with!
A - Yeah. Well, I realize that. I can't let you know who this is, but I was on a flight from Dallas to LA about three or four years ago and met one of my absolute heroes that's ever been involved in music in a very high profile band and he said to me, "Do you get along with that other guy?" I said, "Yeah. We're the best of friends." I said, "What about you and so-and-so?" He said, "Well, we have our issues." I said, "What about that guy?" He said, "Well, we don't really talk that much." So, I think that's kind of sad that one goes out on the road and be on stage with people that you don't really care about or you have major disagreements (with). I'm very lucky and I believe Graham would say the same thing.
Q - When you say that, in the beginning of any band it's fun.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Then it becomes a business and the trouble starts.
A - Well, you are absolutely right. When we began touring in Air Supply in late 1976, we didn't have a clue about what we were doing, not one idea. So, it was fun. The band was in a Volkswagen bus. We carried our own equipment. It was just a laugh and we were famous in Australia out of the box and that was another distraction. But, once you've been around for a little bit, you have to get down in the trenches, not just the two of us, but everybody in the band, the crew, on a day-to-day basis to do as many shows as we do. It's a great education for you. You realize who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Fortunately after this much time, any attitudes, any bad decisions made by anybody in the band or crew... We have a very harmonious group of people that really do sincerely enjoy being around each other and that's very hard to find.
Q - What was the music scene like in Australia pre-Beatles, before 1964?
A - Well, that's a tough one. I saw the Beatles in 1964 when I was 15 years old.
Q - I was going to ask you about that. That was my next question.
A - Once again, with the entrance into the US and world market of bands like The Bee Gees and Little River band and INXS and you name it, a lot of questions were asked, "How come now?" And Australia has always had a great pool of talent there. We had very, very huge individual Rock stars there in the vein of Elvis Presley. Girls just screaming and showing up in droves. Johnny O'Keefe was a very famous Australian Rock 'n' Roll star. He used to come on stage in leopard skin suits, in suede shoes and bring the house down. So, it was a very Rock 'n' Roll place.
Q - I never heard of Johnny O'Keefe before.
A - Well, you wouldn't have because he never made it overseas. (Laughs). It was a rockin' scene there and I was not really interested that much in that kind of music then. My upbringing was my parents and older sister who sang Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Those kind of people.
Q - You saw the Beatles in Melbourne in 1964.
A - Correct.
Q - You say there was incredible screaming.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Did you get to actually see The Beatles or hear anything they were playing?
A - I got a great view of them and I think they played maybe only five songs in those days because they were part of a multiple bill with the English Invasion. Sounds Incorporated was another band on the bill. Gerry And The Pacemakers. Cilla Black. So I heard very little. Maybe if they played five songs I would've heard not even a complete song. It was chaos. I have a 24-year-old daughter and when she was younger I saw the adoration and the chaos that acts since then seemed to have caused, including Michael Jackson, and I can tell you having lived through it; I've been there, nothing compared to that (The Beatles) in my lifetime certainly.
Q - What kind of a venue where they playing in Melbourne. Was it a very big venue?
A - It was called Festival Hall. It was a multifaceted place. I think it was 7,000 or 8,000, maybe 10,000 tops. Venues in those days weren't very sophisticated or catered specifically for concerts.
Q - You believe that The Beatles were the greatest band that ever existed. To that I say, you are right! They had it all. They had everything. As we go into the '70s, groups like Led Zeppelin were monster players, but I don't think we knew them as personalities as we did The Beatles.
A - Obviously, as you said, The Beatles had everything. They certainly might not have been the best musicians in the world, but the things they did to music, fashion, and the way we spoke, the concept album Sgt. Pepper's, I think they are one of the first bands to play outdoor venues, big ones. Putting lyrics on album covers. They must've been one of the first acts to do that. They affected music in a tremendous way. I got to meet Robert Plant some years ago who was a real gentleman. To be in the presence of a talent like that was mind blowing to me. I never thought about having a career in music, so to meet somebody that was an idol of yours and such a great singer was phenomenal. You can't compare Led Zeppelin to anybody. The Beatles were who they were. I got on the BBC website this morning. I like to do that from time to time. There must have been at least twenty articles about them. They haven't been in existence since 1969, so that tells you something about their presence still.
Q - Did you ever meet any of The Beatles?
A - No, I didn't. I've seen McCartney in concert three times.
Q - How did you know that you could sing?
A - Well, as a matter fact I didn't. I was working for a computer company in Sydney in 1975 and my girlfriend at the time came home from her job with the local daily paper and there was an advertisement in there for Jesus Christ Superstar additions. She said, "I saw this and I think you should go along and audition." I said, "Why would I want to do that?" She said, "Because you can sing." I said, "Everybody can sing." She said, "Everybody can't sing like you do." This was having sung at parties after having a few beers. She kept nagging me until I went to audition. I was so clueless. I flew from Sydney to Melbourne. I stopped at a music store along the way there and picked up some sheet music for "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and I didn't know if it was in my key. I was really dumb. I went to the audition and actually had to hang onto the piano, my knees were shaking so bad. But anyway, I sang the song and they said, "We'll get back to you," and took a Polaroid. A couple of weeks later they called and said, "Were not sure whether we can offer you a position. Would you mind coming back and singing again?" So, I went back again. After that, about a month later, the financial guy for the show called and said, "Would you like to join the show for at least the next year and a half?" So, I was in.
Q - We used to have a commercial running in the US that said, "To get a good job, get a good education." You dropped out of school at 16?
A - Yes.
Q - So you went out and got a job in retail. As a salesman or in the warehouse?
A - The first job I had was in a clothing store, a very small one owned by an elderly gentleman. There were only four or five people working in the store. I did that for about six months. In fact, the day after I realized I failed my high school exams, at the end of the year, I got a job the next day because I wasn't going to waste my parents money anymore, and their time and my time. So, I worked in that place for about six months. Then the guy that owned the store, his son passed away, so he sold the business, but he got everyone in the store jobs, like a Bloomingdale kind of store. I was there for about four or five years before I got into this computers company. In the computer company I just gave out spare parts because in those days the hardware was hardware. Card-punch machines. All that stuff that's dinosaur right now. I enjoyed the job. I didn't have any aspirations to sing professionally.
Q - I asked earlier if you'd met any of The Beatles. Since you like the voices of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, did you meet either of them?
A - No, unfortunately. I haven't met anybody from that time in my life. I've been lucky since to have met some great singers and great artists. Those people have eluded me. Maybe I'll get to meet Tony Bennett at some point. He's still one of my favorite singers.
Q - You are in a rare category, Russ. Air Supply has sold over 100 million records, CDs and tapes.
A - I don't know what the number is. You are probably educating me today. (Laughs).
Q - Where did this name Air Supply come from? What does it mean, anything?
A - We were in Jesus Christ Superstar. We kind of had a feeling that the show had run its course. We'd been in it for about a year and a half and we recorded some demos of songs Graham had written. We wanted to take them to the record companies in Australia to see if we could get a deal and we didn't have a name for the band. We asked the people in the production of Superstar to make some suggestions. I remember being really pissed off because no one took us seriously and came up with names I can't even remember, they were so inane. In any case, we came to the show on a particular day and Graham said that he had a dream the night before and in the dream was a billboard surrounded in lights with the name Air Supply and that was all that was on. So it was as simple as that.
Q - You call Atlanta home these days. Where is Graham living?
A - He lives in Utah, just outside of Salt Lake.
Q - Why did you choose Atlanta to live in? Is that a music city?
A - My girlfriend was here. I moved for love. (Laughs).
Q - Can the same be said for Graham?
A - Yes, he's married. He's been married for a very long time. We've got guys in Arizona, California, Detroit. There's about four or five locations. So, we all just fly in, meet each other and do our thing and get on the road and go to our respective residences after we're done.
Q - Calling rehearsal must be tough when everybody lives in a different place.
A - We rehearse at the beginning of the year. We don't rehearse after that. We are very anti-rehearsing. (Laughs).
Q - Why would that be?
A - I don't like to rehearse at all. It bores me. We've had a couple of replacements in the band recently and we sent them the most recent 'live' show and they learn it. Of course we sound check every day when we're on the road, so if we need to tighten things up or look at a song here or there. We rehearse new songs on the road. I shouldn't say we don't rehearse at all, but we don't sequester ourselves in a hall somewhere and do that. It's always been on the fly. So if we want to put a new song in the show, we'll probably play it four or five times at sound check and then it's good to go.