By Steve Spears
Australia and The 80s Cruise seem gracefully intertwined in recent sailings. The Church and Colin Hay from Men at Work have sailed previously. In 2024, we’ll get a taste of Real Life and Air Supply.
Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply joined me for a Zoom chat recently and we talked about the big names to come out from Down Under – Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, and even Icehouse and AC/DC.
“Before I even thought about being in music in the ’60s, there was a tremendous amount of talent in Australia and the world didn’t know about it basically,” Russell said. “We had this whole bucketful of talent that nobody even wanted to look at. (But) once something gets tapped and it’s successful, then let’s go there until the well runs dry.”
Russell and I talked about the enduring partnership with band co-founder Graham Russell, their days appearing on TV’s “Solid Gold,” and how the musicians surrounding them today have electrified the band’s signature hits. Here are a few highlights from our conversation. (Listen to the full interview here.)
I took my wife to her first Air Supply concert this past January in Clearwater, Florida, and she’s now the ultimate Airhead. She still talks about that show.
“Wow, that’s impressive. Bless her heart.”
You have a way of interacting with the audience that it’s so delightful to watch. You’re always making eye contact, giving them a thumbs up and a wink.
“It’s evolved certainly because when we first started playing, I used to play conga drums and I would stand behind them because I was too scared to move, and fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. One of the reasons why we’ve been around for so long is that we do have an amazing relationship with the fans. In fact, I kind of get into a bit of an argument once in a while with my lighting guy because I tell him I wanna see faces, because if I can’t see faces, I can’t relate to people. And if I can’t relate to them, that’s 90% of my show gone, for me personally.”
The 80s Cruise would seem like an excellent opportunity for you to really connect with fans because you’re on the boat with us.
“We’re not ones to lock ourselves in our cabins after a show or during the day. I always get opinions from people about what they think of the show and what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they would you like to see or hear. And also, Graham and I are both regular guys. I don’t have my head up my butt about thinking about how important I am and how great I am. My dad, from very early on in my life, was always telling me to be polite to people, be kind because that’s the way people should be, and it’s worked for me and us forever.”
With Graham, you and he have a friendship that’s one of the most enduring and enviable relationships in a business where friendships don’t usually survive very long. Have you been able to put a finger on what’s the key to the bond aside from the mutual background?
“We don’t step on each other’s toes. I don’t write songs. He doesn’t want to be the lead singer. We respect each other. I love him as a brother. We’ve been through hell and high water together both professionally and personally, and always been there to support one another. When we have a break, which is very rare, I love getting back to work. I love walking into the venue, into the hotel and seeing him, probably because I’ve known him for so long and he’s like the other half of me, my entity, and we’re not complete on stage without each other.”
I was just watching a video of an Air Supply performing on an Australian TV show “Countdown” in the late ’70s playing “Love and Other Bruises.” If I had to draw up my dream Air Supply set list, I think I would drop “Love and Other Bruises” on there.
“Well, we have played that, so keep your fingers crossed.”
Television seems like it was an excellent medium for you at the start of your career.
“When we got successful and had success in America, we did ‘Solid Gold’ every other week for what seemed like five years, and they were a wonderful support for us, and obviously the exposure was priceless. We did Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, all the shows. We wouldn’t be here if not for them in the initial stages, that’s for sure.”
You have an impressive tattoo collection. I’m not sure all your fans know about them all, but they’ll see them on the cruise. Do you have a favorite?
“No, there’s too many. Well, I actually have my wife’s signature here.”
Oh, that’s cool.
“My other one has had my daughter’s name on this side. I have a rose for her, which was the first one I got, and it’s about as big as a diamond. I was so scared to get tattooed that I thought if it was smaller, it wouldn’t be as painful. But now I just grin and bear it, and I’ve still got a bit of room left, but not too much.”
(Steve Spears is the creator and co-host of Stuck in the ’80s, now in its 18th year and one of the longest running pop culture podcasts. He and co-host Brad Williams emcee Big 80s Trivia on each voyage of The 80s Cruise. Find out more at www.sit80s.com.)