Annabelle Russell, 68, who with her husband Harley Russell made up the irreverent Mediocre Music Makers at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma, died Tuesday afternoon after a 3 1/2-year bout with cancer.
The Facebook page for Harley and Annabelle posted sad but typical message Tuesday:
Dear friends, my Precious Annabelle just passed away 1:10p.m. this afternoon Sept.30, 2014. Thank all of you for everything you have done.
You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Annabelle was moved into hospice care in Oklahoma City in early September. She began aggressive treatment for the cancer after a four-hour surgery in March 2011. Although the cancer was incurable, she recovered her strength enough to play a number of Mediocre Music Makers shows with Harley.
The Mediocre Music Makers act began more than a decade ago in the Russells’ old City Meat Market building a block south of Route 66 in downtown Erick. They previously tried to make it go as a health-food store. The Mediocre Music Makers act happened spontaneously: The Russells once were going through guitar practices in the store when a tour group stopped by. Afterward, the group threw money down on the tables for tips, and its guide said he’d bring more tours by in the future. And a long and well-known entertainment career on Route 66 was born.
The act was mostly music with a heaping helping of wacky comedy inside a shop brimming with antiques. Annabelle served as rhythm guitarist, singer and “straight man” in the act (where you could “see rednecks work and play in their own environment”). But close observers noted she often was the instigator to Harley’s madcap antics, and Harley told me she had written 300 songs — a few which made into their set list.
Harley, in a Facebook message on Sept. 25, said:
My Precious Annabelle was the key factor behind our success at our “Sandhills Curiosity Shop” in Erick, Oklahoma, where we performed our “Insanity at it`s Finest” program (off-color comedy and mediocre music). In this space I cannot begin to tell you of the many tasks she performed! As a matter of fact I don`t even know myself! And you, all our friends played a big part in it as well!
(Incidentally, Harley ultimately called their act “mediocre” because he was a professional musician for many years.)
But the duo continued to entertain thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of countries. A significant number said the Harley & Annabelle Experience was the highlight of their Route 66 trip.
As a testament to their popularity, well-wishes came by the dozens from all over the globe on Harley and Annabelle’s Facebook page during her diagnosis and later treatments.
As for the future of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Harley posted this a few days ago:
I have asked my Precious Annabelle what she wanted me to do after this is all over….She says, try to keep doing what we were doing at our shop “The Sandhills Curiosity Shop” so that’s what I will try to do. But it will never be the same! You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This brings up something else. Facebook is cussed and discussed — often for good reasons — for years. But it served as a viable link to Harley and Annabelle and all of their fans and friends from across the globe during the long ordeal. Harley told me himself Annabelle’s health problems were “hell,” but I suspect all the well-wishes from hundreds of people made the last few years a bit more tolerable. The words of sympathy and support that flooded his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon and evening reiterated that.
(Image of Harley and Annabelle Russell performing in February 2014 by Dusty Track via Flickr)