Fronted by Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, the British-Australian duo is entering its 38th year together. They average upwards of 140 performances a year and have sold more than 100 million albums throughout their storied career, all the while racking up innumerable fans worldwide with their unique blend of rock-n-roll, folk and pop music.
Checking in with The Smoky Mountain News from his home in Park City, Utah, Russell reflected on his success in the music industry, why there is no feeling like being onstage, and what it was like to hear his music for the first time on the radio those 38 years ago.
Smoky Mountain News: You still play over a 140 shows a year. How do keep that regimen going?
Graham Russell: We’re away from home some 230 days a year. We’ve always done it, and we’re kind of like a well-oiled machine when we’re out on the road. We love performing. We have a great show and take a lot of care with it.
SMN: What do you like about being out there in front of an audience?
GR: We want to deliver the best product we can for the people that pay and see us. We don’t take it for granted. When I get out onstage, I want to take over and entertain all of those people out there.
SMN: 38 years together as a group. What does that number mean to you?
GR: It’s quite frightening because we never thought we’d be around this long. When any band begins in the early stages, you hope to make a record and hope to stay together maybe six months. For us, it just happened, it wasn’t by design. It just fell into place. Russell and I have never had an argument. We don’t allow any kind of negativity. Our music is about love and that’s what we like to show to each other.
SMN: What is it about your music that fascinates people?
GR: The songs are really simple, they have a great message and people can sing along with them. But, at the same time, they can be very deep. Even it’s a three-chord song, you can listen to it in a different way and get something else from it. They may be three or four chords, but they’re very intricate chords because I play a guitar backwards and upside down, so I get chords nobody has ever heard of.
SMN: So, you’re left-handed playing a right-handed guitar?
GR: I am, exactly. I was comfortable with it when I started learning to play and I just never knew you could turn it around. That’s just the way I learned and it’s too late to change it, you know? And with that way, I get a very jangly sound by playing the top strings first and the bottom strings last.
SMN: That has to make for an interesting songwriting process.
GR: Oh, it does, because I can hear all kinds of jangly melodies when notes are rubbing together that normally wouldn’t be.
SMN: Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
GR: Oh, yes. It was an amazing experience. I was driving in Sydney with Russell. It was 1975. Of course, once you hear it, you want to hear it again and your expectations and priorities just change, where you just want to keep pushing further out.
SMN: So, when you heard it, did you pull the car over or push down on the gas pedal?
GR: (Laughs) Russ and I were just driving in the car and it sounded so good. It was “Love and Other Bruises,” which was the first song we ever recorded. It went to number one in Australia in 10 days.
SMN: What can people expect when they see you live?
GR: When people come to the show, it becomes obvious to them why we’ve been around so long. It’s all about having that experience right there on the spot, seeing people laughing and crying in the audience. We play the hits, but we also keep it fresh and play a lot of new songs, too. We’ve always had a show where people can really hear us, where we are walking out to and talking with the audience, where we become real to them, and it’s great.
Want to go?
Air Supply hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin. Tickets range from $35 to $55 per person.
828.524.1598 or www.greatmountainmusic.com.