'Jesus Christ got Air Supply started," proclaimed the headline of a Philippine Star article in late June.
No, they're not that old, but founding musicians Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock did meet at rehearsals for the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" 35 years ago in Australia.
These kings of romantic ballads are huge in the Philippines. "I am 12-years-old, you are my idol," enthused a young Filipina on a fan site.
Russell Hitchcock (left) and Graham Russell
"All of their songs are timeless, they warm and touch my heart, and they give me wondrous feelings," wrote another. "Till the rest of my life I'll be their faithful fan."
"We've been going there for about 28 years; we have great fans there," Hitchcock reports. "This year we're going to mainland China, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia. We have a lot of fans who enjoy our music."
So is he amazed to find fans as far afield as China who can sing along to every song?
* Air Supply featuring Russell Hitchcock (left) and Graham Russell - will deliver all their fans' best-loved hits at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $35, $55, $65 and $85, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"I'm just surprised we've had a career this long," he jokes. "We've worked very hard to get where we are now, in spite of not having any profile on the radio for the last 20 odd years. We are a touring band playing at least 120 shows a year, and we go back to where people want to see us. So to have people who saw us 30 years ago and they bring their kids or grandchildren, and having young people come to the shows is incredible. The bottom line is we have great songs and great shows."
Australian Hitchcock and Englishman Russell met in Melbourne in 1975. Both musicians shared a love for the Beatles, after seeing them live as young teens. An instant bond developed and they often sang Beatles' favorites together after "Superstar" shows.
"I dropped out of high school when I was 16 and had a number of jobs and never anticipated being in music until I was 25," recalls Air Supply's lead vocalist.
"But I just loved music. I was exposed to great music because my dad used to sing in big bands in Australia in the '40s. The music I first heard was Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Julie London. I loved that. And I used to go to the movies when I was a kid on my own, seeing 'South Pacific' and 'West Side Story.' Music was always a big influence on my life, so when I got into 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and worked with Graham, it was unbelievably wonderful.
"I appreciate good voices and good melodies and lyrics. And fortunately I met up with Graham. In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated songwriters in the history of pop music. He's been writing original material for 35 years, and he writes songs every day."
Recognizing their mutual talent, the duo adopted their group name after it was revealed to Hitchcock in a dream.
"We were both in 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and had done some demos to take to record companies and we didn't have a name," Russell continues. "We asked the cast to suggest names for us, but they didn't take us seriously. Graham came in one day and said, 'I had a dream last night and saw Air Supply in lights on a billboard.' I said, that's good enough for me."
After releasing a couple of albums in Australia, they opened for Rod Stewart on tour, and were invited by him to continue on to the U.S. and Canada.
In 1979, they released the concept album "Life Support," featuring the ballad "Lost in Love," which caught the attention of record industry mogul Clive Davis, who helped steer the careers of stars like Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.
Signed by Davis, Air Supply's next album, "Lost in Love," became a massive international hit.
The album included their mega-hit "All Out of Love," a hit in Australia in 1978, with the singalong chorus, "I'm all out of love, I want to arrest you."
You see, in Australia Hitchcock's inference writing, "I want to arrest you," was understood as kind of like saying, 'Hey, I just want to get your attention.' "
But would American audiences understand?
Clive Davis suggested a necessary lyric change to the more familiar, "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you," and thus earning co-composing credits.
"He got a writing credit for changing the lyric," Hitchcock explains. "I thought arrest was a great word. In French it means 'stop.' It's the most popular song we play live. It's sold a lot of copies, let's just say that."
The song's composer, Russell, was recently honored with a BMI Million-Air Certificate, recognizing more than 3 million performances of Air Supply's massive hit. In case you're wondering - 3 million plays is equivalent to a staggering 17 years of continuous playtime.
So what did sudden whirlwind success feel like?
"It happened so fast when we started to have hits songs internationally that I didn't really have time to stop and enjoy it," he says. "We were on the road for eight or nine months a year and somebody would say, your song is number three this week, and we'd go, that's good, we've got to play tomorrow night in 14 hours. It all seemed like a blur. People at shows now bring old album covers, and I go, gee I don't remember that. But I love my life, I'm 61 years old and I get to travel, I couldn't ask for more."
In May, Air Supply released its first album of original material in eight years. A concept album, "Mumbo Jumbo" details the life of an idealistic young hero called Zed inhabiting a parallel universe.
"It's about a guy who sees all the opulence and greed in the world and tries to find out where he is, and looks for the love of his life and ultimately finds it," Hitchcock explains.
"It's getting great response and getting widespread distribution."
After 35 years, Hitchcock and Russell still thrill their "Airhead" (as they're known) fans around the globe.
What's the secret?
"The songs," he suggests. "They've always deeply touched peoples' hearts. They're lyrically simple, but they're not banal or stupid. The melodies are awesome, people remember them, and they touch your heart no matter who you are. I've had Hells Angels tell me how much they love my songs."
Like scary bikers?
"I have a lot of tattoos, and I went to a tattoo shop in L.A. years ago, and there were four guys, Hells Angels, blocking the sidewalk," he recalls. "I thought I was going to get my *** kicked. And one of them said, 'Do you sing with Air Supply?' I said yes. He said, 'Can I get an autograph for my wife, because we played 'Too Less Lonely People' at our wedding.'
"We cross generations and genres. And the funny thing is I get people who tell me, 'You know you're not that hip, but I like you, and I can't tell anybody else.'"