No matter where you go, Graham Russell has gotten there first.
You like to ski? He lives in Park City, Utah.
You’re thinking about cutting down on meat consumption. He’s a vegan.
He even got to your radio ahead of you. The day you’re due to interview the songwriting half of Air Supply, you click to the SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock station and “Even the Nights Are Better” comes on.
It’s one of the group’s many hits — songs like “Two Less Lonely People in the World,” “Every Woman in the World” — that become Post-it notes in your head. And those notes are likely reminding you to get tickets for their live show Saturday, March 26, at Paradise Coast Sports Complex. (For details, see the information box.)
Graham Russell, Russell Hitchcock and their current band can roll out a litany of chart climbers linked by the word “love,” and they’re proud of it. Three years away from a 50-year anniversary, Air Supply’s material has kept its focus on a universal need: “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” “The One That You Love.”
But those who come to their outdoor concert will get some surprises, Russell promised.
“In the ’80s, certainly the record companies paid for big ballads. But there are a lot of other kinds of things that I composed. When people come to see us live they say ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that,’ because it’s quite varied,” he said. “But we always play the big hits.”
A dedicated writer who works every day, Russell has composed everything from folk tunes to musicals.
“I’m on my fifth musical right now,” he said. “They’ll all be performed, but in secondary markets, like Salt Lake City, Denver, places like that. One of these days I’ll break through to Broadway, I hope.
“But I don’t do it because I want to get on Broadway. I just love it.”
Russell has been composing since age 13, but a sense of purpose with his works didn’t hit until he saw his first concert at age 14, a rising young band called The Beatles. They were playing in a local cinema, and the concert galvanized him.
“Suddenly everything made sense. It was incredible. I can’t describe it. And that was the beginning of my journey,” he recalled.
If The Beatles inspired Russell, Jesus Christ brought him and Russell Hitchcock together. So to speak. Russell and Hitchcock were both working on the Australian production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” when they struck up a friendship. Before the tour had ended they already had formed a band.
Other musicians have cycled in and out of Air Supply, but the duo consider it a two-person band. They have a strict division of labor that keeps Russell writing and harmonizing and Hitchcok singing his clarion tenor leads. The two have played all over the world; even after their spate of ’80s chart toppers cooled, the demand for their romantic pop and love ballads never did.
The two could do a week of concerts and never repeat themselves.
“We’ve recorded 25 albums, so that’s 250 songs right there,” Russell observed with a bit of pride.
“We’ve done the extremes. We were the first band to tour China, Vietnam, Taiwan, simply because they asked us to come. We have a great relationship with Asia. They’re very loyal audiences.”
They have a loyal fan base overall whom are affectionately referred to as Air Heads.”Some of the fans have been watching us for decades,” Russell said.
“They know all the songs, not just the hits. They like to get in the nooks and crannies with those obscure songs. So we play them, too.”
A niche favorite with fans: “Never Fade Away.”
If you offered Russell a ticket to someone else’s concert? He’d see Bob Dylan, “whom I think is the greatest American songwriter ever.” But he likes the music of Ed Sheeran, and, during their brief two-disc life, a duo called Civil Wars.
Russell’s go-to music at home is classical, the ultimate chart toppers in his estimation: “A lot of these great masters, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart — some of them are 300 years old but I still get inspiration from them. It doesn’t get any better.”
Russell also is modest about having been everywhere before you have: to the ski lifts, the vegan lifestyle, the stardom. At 71, “I don’t ski downhill any more. I cross-country ski instead,” he said.
And he admits touring can get tricky with his vegan philosophy. Airport food is off his list: “I take my own food. I try not to eat on planes unless it’s a long haul. Then I’ll take some wraps with me that I’ve made myself.
“I grow a lot my own food,” he continued. Part of the reason Air Supply makes shorter hops these days is because, as he put it: “I have a massive greenhouse that’s almost as big as my house so I have to look after that.”
But Russell is a man grateful for his career, and retirement is not a word in his vocabulary.
“We do it because we love it. In our career we’ve done almost 5,300 shows. It’s just what we do,” he said. “Russell and I said years ago, ‘We’ll stop playing when the people stop coming.’
“Stepping onstage is the greatest thrill of your life. It’s wonderful. That’s why we do it.”