Bill Windsor's sweet friend, Annabelle Russell, has died.
It happened in October, but I hadn't heard.
Annabelle Russell was a very special lady...
I had been thinking about them, so I Yahooed Harley and Annabelle today to learn this sad news. I met them in 2003 and enjoyed a truly unique experience. While on the Lawless America Movie Road Trip in 2012, I stopped for just a few minutes between cities to say hello. I learned that Annabelle had cancer.
I took 35 photos of Harley and Annabelle. Click here to see a slideshow of two absolute originals.
Here is the story that I wrote about Harley and Annabelle in 2003:
I reached Oklahoma just before 5 pm on May 8. Texola is the borderline ghost town. Not much left there. Texola’s slogan is a proud one just the same: “No place like Texola.” I got a photo of the long-closed Longhorn Trading Post, a restaurant opened in the 30’s. I could just barely make out the word “Longhorn” on the faded facade.
Erick, Oklahoma was just seven miles down Route 66 — one of those towns that you’ll miss if you blink. I kept my eyes wide open as I knew this was Roger Miller’s hometown, and I wanted to see and photograph something Roger Miller-related. When the speed limit increased, I realized that I had failed. I started to drive on, but then I thought there HAS to be something with Roger Miller’s name on it somewhere in Erick, so a U-turn gave me a second chance. I saw an old truck with a flag painted on the side, but no Roger Miller. Then I came to the only intersection in the town, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a big flag painted on the side of a building. It wasn’t a particularly good painting, but it was an old building and a big flag, so I turned left, hopped out of the car with the engine running, walked out into the vacant lot, and snapped a photo.
As I turned to go back to the car, I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a man who looked like he had just stepped out of the movie “Deliverance.” He had long frizzy hair, a big gaping hole in his mouth where his front tooth used to be, faded blue overalls, no shirt, and was barefoot. He kind of scared me. He was hollering something about “Welcome to the Redneck Capital of the World” and mediocre music, and I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. He wanted me to come into the old, dark City Meat Market building. There wasn’t another human or car anywhere in sight. I told him I needed to turn off my car, which I did need to do, but I was buying time trying to figure out how I could get out of going into the City Meat Market with a guy who scared the bejeesus out of me a few moments before. He kept talking and waving me over, and I kept stalling. Then out of the meat market came a really sweet-looking lady with long gray hair, and the Deliverance guy calmed it down a notch or two and said, “Welcome to Erick, Oklahoma, redneck capital of the world and the home of legendary singer-songwriter, Roger ‘King of the Road’ Miller. You’re at the Sandhills Curiosity Shop, formerly the City Meat Market, in the oldest brick building in downtown Erick, Oklahoma. My name is Harley, and this is my better-half Annabelle, and we are the Mediocre Music Makers.”
Well, he said the secret word, Roger Miller, and I felt safe once I saw Annabelle. So I grabbed my camera and tape recorder, and into the City Meat Market I went. They showed me to a chair in the middle of the room, and the next thing I knew, Harley and Annabelle had guitars strapped on, and they were playing and singing to an audience of one. Harley is an excellent singer and a phenomenal guitar player. Annabelle plays well and has the sweet voice of an angel. I loved the music and immediately warmed to these Characters.
I spent two hours with Harley and Annabelle in the redneck capital of the world. I could have spent much longer.
In April 1986, Harley was sitting in the City Meat Market. He had no electricity and no water. He had an extension cord running across the alley to his home (he calls it the Redneck Castle, and noted that it was open to the public) to power a 40-watt light bulb that he used to read by. He was sitting there in an old rocking chair when a car pulled up and two women got out. They said they just wanted to get out to stretch their legs. Harley took an immediate shine to the younger of the women, and he said “Honey, you’ve come to the right place.” Annabelle has been there ever since.
Harley spent 22 years on the road as a musician. In 1986, he had just gotten divorced from his fourth wife, and he was there “kind of recuperating.” He notes that Erick, Oklahoma is probably the cheapest place in America to live. He was born there on Route 66. He was just hangin’ out in 1986, and said they still do just that today. People come by, and they visit with them and “just try to add a little spice to their lives and ours, too.”
Annabelle had a guitar when she first met Harley, and she asked if he knew anyone in town who could tune it. He tuned it. She asked how much she owed him, and he said “Nothing. Just play a song for me.” She played and sang, and Harley backed her up on his guitar. Annabelle couldn’t believe how good Harley was as a guitar player, and her mother set up a guitar lesson for her. She came back the next day for her lesson, and they just talked. Harley told her to go home and pack her bags, and she did. She went back to California, packed up, got on a plane, and Harley picked her up at the Oklahoma City Airport. They’ve been hangin’ out in Erick, Oklahoma ever since.
Harley is an extremely talented guitarist, and Harley and Annabelle are very entertaining together. I asked why they don’t go to a bigger place. I mean, there appeared to be just a few hundred people in Erick, Oklahoma, and hardly any cars ever drive through, and if they do, the chances of them turning off Route 66 to go down past the City Meat Market are slim. Harley replied: “We have so much fun with people right here that we don’t see how it would be worth it to go anywhere else.”
Harley told me they didn’t have any money, and they didn’t have any health insurance. Until they get sick, they figured they were sittin’ on top of the world because when they don’t have anyone else to entertain with their mediocre music program, they can just entertain each other, and it didn’t cost a dime.
I asked Harley and Annabelle what lesson I should learn from them. Harley agreed that you can find love in the funniest of places and replied “Love is always just around the corner.”
Annabelle said “Happiness doesn’t come from all the things outside; it comes from inside.”
Harley and Annabelle make money by entertaining groups. I have no idea how groups find out about them. They serve a Redneck Picnic on their pool table — bologna sandwiches, pickles, chips, and soda pop. Folks come in, make a sandwich, grab a soda pop, and sit down and enjoy their “mediocre music.” There is no charge. They work solely on faith and tips, and they said they’d never been disappointed.
Before I left, they gave me a bunch of names of people and places I needed to go during the rest of my Route 66 trip in Oklahoma. They invited me to spend the night at the Redneck Castle, but I had to move on, so I bought one of Annabelle’s drawings (excellent artist, too) and two of their homemade tapes, dropped some cash into the tip jar, and said goodbye. I know I put more money in the jar because Harley told me they had never been disappointed; amazing how that made me grab a larger bill.
What interesting people and what an enjoyable two hours. I took a photo of the future site of the Roger Miller Museum, a shot of the Roger Miller Boulevard sign, the 100th Meridian Museum, and I was on my way.
You don’t have to live in a big city to be happy. In fact, the people I’ve met in small towns seem a lot happier than folks in the bigger cities. As Annabelle said “Happiness doesn’t come from all the things outside; it comes from inside.” We should work more on the inside.
Here is the news of her passing:
It's interesting the people we just happen to meet in life -- complete flukes. It was a wonderful fluke of life for me to become friends with Annabelle and Harley. Annabelle, please introduce yourself to my Mom up there. I know you will hit it off.
FYI: There are many Harley and Annabelle videos on YouTube.
For a quick update on Bill Windsor's saga and upcoming trial, see this summary on LawlessAmerica.com.
For the Lawless America videos, see www.YouTube.com/lawlessamerica. Bill Windsor's Facebook page is www.facebook.com/billwindsor1 Bill Windsor's Twitter account is www.twitter.com/lawlessamerica. And click here for the Lawless America Facebook page that has just magically reappeared.
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