BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Russell Hitchcock scurries across the street in Marietta Square, head down and hands bedecked in silver jewelry and a few tattoos tucked into the pockets of his jeans.
But even with his shock of white hair and Elton John-ish round sunglasses etched with stars, no one looks twice as he heads into the Australian Bakery Cafe, a place that provides a small culinary reminder of home.
“They make the best meat pies here outside of Australia,” he says in his lilting accent.
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The store manager immediately pops out to say hello to his regular customer, but still, no one pays any mind to the guy who, along with musical partner Graham Russell, has sold millions of albums worldwide.
That’s likely because few would expect to see Hitchcock, the lead singer of soft-rock behemoths Air Supply, strolling around an Atlanta suburb.
Fewer still would expect that Hitchcock is a Marietta resident, but he is, having transplanted here about three years ago to be with his longtime girlfriend after spending three decades in California and, prior to that, living in his native Australia.
“I love being here. It’s very quiet, which I love. There are great restaurants and we’ve made some really good friends and neighbors. Because I have such intensive work on the road, it’s a nice place to go home and just kick your shoes off and put your feet up,” Hitchcock, 66, said.
He’s a quiet guy, a little shy, even — he still gets a bit of stage fright 40 years into his career and relies on a glass of merlot to calm his pre-concert jitters — but an engaging conversation companion.
For more than an hour, talk weaves through shared interests.
He’s a staunch NFL follower (and a proud owner of jerseys supporting Dan Marino, Drew Brees and yes, Matt Ryan); a fan of Howard Stern (“I’d love to go on his show; you can say whatever you want”); not as much of a fan of TSA Pre-Check (too crowded lately for this inveterate traveler); and, despite spending chunks of his year in casinos for Air Supply performances, an apathetic gambler (“I might put $100 on black or red on roulette. If I win, I win and walk away. If I lose, I walk away.”).
But Hitchcock and Russell have ridden a consistent win streak for four decades.
They charted in Australia — Russell, born in England, moved there at 17 and met Hitchcock in 1975 when both performed in an Aussie production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” — in the late ‘70s. But their first U.S. hit, “Lost in Love,” arrived on the airwaves in January 1980.
The gliding ballad launched a string of 10 consecutive hits, including the chart-topper “The One That You Love” in 1981 and the cascading “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” in 1983.
Their songs, all written by Russell (who also sings and plays guitar), have complemented countless weddings — Hitchcock has the letters and emails to prove it — and Air Supply’s international appeal is steadfast.
In 2005, the pair shattered an attendance record with a show in Cuba.
“We wanted to go there for a long time, and the evening before the show, a hurricane came in and the day of the show was torrential rain,” Hitchcock recalled. “We couldn’t go outside to soundcheck and there was a covered tunnel leading us from backstage to the stage. We get to the stage and there were 175,000 people there and we were the only act on the bill. It stopped me in my tracks.”
Of their average 130 concerts per year, many take place in Air Supply hot spots such as Latin America and Southeast Asia. In the week after the Atlanta show, the duo and their four-piece band will travel to Malta and Ireland before zipping back to the U.S. for a traditional Labor Day weekend run in Las Vegas.
It’s a busy enough schedule for Hitchcock and Russell, who lives near Park City, Utah, and loves outdoorsy things like growing his own vegetables as much as Hitchcock appreciates air conditioning and cable TV.
Their relationship has never faltered. Hitchcock mentions that a mid-‘90s story in Billboard announcing that the guys had split was untrue (“We had stopped making records, but we never stopped touring,” he said).
Their longevity, he thinks, is attributed to an ideal alliance of talents.
“I don’t want to write songs and Graham doesn’t want to be the lead singer,” Hitchcock said with a simple smile.
While Air Supply’s current set list contains more than a dozen hits (the swooping and dramatic “Sweet Dreams” has earned the distinction of set opener), the Chastain show might see the debut of two new Air Supply compositions: “Shake It,” which Hitchcock describes as “kind of ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll with two-part harmony,” and the ballad “I Adore You,” which he calls “just gorgeous.”
While he’s completely content with being labeled as adult contemporary or soft rock or whatever radio station format meshes with Air Supply’s songs, Hitchcock also wants fans to know that live, “The show is very loud and dynamic,” he said.
But Air Supply will always be both celebrated and mocked, depending upon the level of music snobbery in the room, for its contributions to the canon of romance music. And Hitchcock is secure in the band’s legacy.
“When we made our first recording in 1976, my daughter wasn’t born yet and I didn’t realize we’d be around so long,” he said. “I said to myself, long after (Graham and I) are both dead, and my children will have played this (record) for their children, we’ll still be in somebody’s consciousness. I know we’ve touched millions of people’s hearts and the music has always been quality. We’ve been true to ourselves, regardless of the musical climate. We’ve always delivered honest shows. And we’ve been 99 percent nice to people.”