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By Photo courtesy of Air Supply
BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
What do the sedate pop love songs of Air Supply and hell-raising party anthems of AC/DC have in common?
Musically, absolutely nothing.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bright House Networks Amphitheatre, 11200 Stockdale Highway
Admission: $36.50 TO $52.50 plus service charge
Information: 852-7777 or ticketmaster.com
Win Air Supply tickets!
Listen to "First Look with Scott Cox" this morning for your chance to win tickets to Saturday's show. Visit Bakersfield.com or tune in at KERN-AM, 1180.
But for hordes of multifaceted fans packing the clubs of Sydney, Australia, during the '70s, devil-horned hand gestures were as common as slow dancing.
"There weren't many gigs in Australia, so you had to get whatever work you could to stay alive," said singer-songwriter Graham Russell, one-half of best-selling vocal duo Air Supply, who appear at Bright House Networks Amphitheatre on Saturday.
"I remember us opening for AC/DC a couple of times at a famous bar in Sydney called the Bondi Lifesaver. It used to get packed with several thousand people."
Russell, 63, and bandmate Russell Hitchcock, 64, went on to become one of the biggest-selling acts Down Under before conquering the States, a badge of honor Russell wears proudly.
"We got thrown to the lions really quick. We thought we were going to get killed, but we stuck it out. Just really cool guys. I think they're the greatest rock and roll band in the world."
While AC/DC perfected the art of the rock hook, Air Supply rewrote the book on pop ballads after first meeting in 1975 during a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" both had starred in.
"We were the only two guys that hadn't been in a stage show before, so we were kind of the outcasts, always hanging out together. We both loved The Beatles, both had the same name, born in the same month. All these things were kind of building up. When I heard his voice in the chorus for the first time, I heard something great no one else did."
The duo took their newly developed act to any available open mic. On stage, Russell's soft mid-range complemented Hitchcock's dramatic high-pitched leads, making them an instant hit.
Within a few months of their formation, the two were signed to a major label on the strength of their hit, "Love and Other Bruises."
"Australia is a tough place, especially for a rock and roll band," Russell said. "Back then, we were a little softer. Even with a radio hit, we had no choice but to build a following from the ground up."
To some degree, Air Supply was following the playbook written by fellow Aussies Little River Band, which had already enjoyed some success in the States.
"Back in those days, you kind of left bread crumbs for everyone else to follow. Little River Band certainly made it easier for us. One day I ran into Glenn Shorrock (of Little River Band) and he said, 'Whatever you do, get out of Australia. Get over to the U.S.'"
Russell and Hitchcock took that advice, scoring a coveted tour slot opening for Rod Stewart in 1977, but the reception from audiences was lukewarm.
"We thought we were unstoppable back home, but of course being big in Australia means nothing on the world scene."
But that wouldn't last. The world was about to catch up, after the launch of a string of singles that would become defining hits: "Lost in Love," "All Out of Love," "Every Woman in the World," "The One That You Love," "Here I Am," "Even the Nights Are Better," "Making Love Out of Nothing at All."
"When we did finally break, we were ready. We had the songs, everyone loved Russell's voice, Australia was hip, suddenly love songs were very hip, and, I think, it was a new decade. People were ready for something different and new like they are at the turn of a new decade. People just latched onto us."
Like Little River Band and AC/DC did for Russell and Hitchcock, Air Supply paved the way for an Aussie invasion into the '80s, with acts such as Men At Work, INXS, Midnight Oil and more following their lead.
"Everyone is so different, but we share so much of the same in terms of how we got here. I happen to write a lot of romantic songs because I think I'm that type of person. If, during your lifetime, you dot the i's and cross the right t's, things happen. The feeling was incredible. We were doing our dream job, and we rode that wave for five years. Then, of course, people stop playing your records and things change."
Adapting to changing tastes, Air Supply continued on the live circuit, finding fans places they'd never imagined.
"Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Colombia, all distant places. They knew everything about us. It was chaos, like Beatlemania. There were 300 to 400 people outside the hotel at any moment. We couldn't get out. Once, in Vietnam, they made this human tunnel for us to run through to get to our car."
Russell and Hitchcock are happy to continue playing the hits, but they've got some new music up their sleeve as well: a new set of dance-oriented tracks set to be released later this summer. Also in production is a new Broadway musical set to the duo's catalog of hits.
"We're in an age when radio is not going to play your music, so it's up to the artist. We'll play all the hits, but our new stuff is going to turn some heads for sure."