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Originally published Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Rockabilly musician Charles Ryan, 92

Charles Ryan, the Spokane man who co-wrote the hit song "Hot Rod Lincoln," has run his last road race. Mr. Ryan died Saturday at age 92...

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Charles Ryan, the Spokane man who co-wrote the hit song "Hot Rod Lincoln," has run his last road race.

Mr. Ryan died Saturday at age 92 after a long battle with heart disease.

"Anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting with, or working with Charlie, knew one thing: He was the REAL DEAL!" wrote Karl Bingle, a friend who operates the Web site www.hot-rod-lincoln.com.

"He had the kind of spirit and personality that immediately brought a smile to your face and challenged you to live life to the fullest," Bingle wrote. "His amazing contributions to country and rockabilly music will never be forgotten."

Mr. Ryan and W.S. Stevenson wrote "Hot Rod Lincoln," and Mr. Ryan first recorded it in 1955. It has been recorded many times since.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen made it a hit in 1972, and it has been a mainstay of popular culture for decades. The song passed the 1-million-play mark in the summer of 2000, according to Broadcast Music.

Mr. Ryan was born in Graceville, Minn., on Dec. 19, 1915, grew up in Polson, Mont., and moved to Spokane in 1943. He served in the Army in World War II.

He worked as a musician and songwriter, touring with Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton and others. He married Ruth Scheffler, of Polson, in 1943, and they had three children.

The song was inspired by Mr. Ryan's commutes in his 1941 Lincoln from Spokane to play gigs at the Paradise Club in Lewiston, Idaho.

"One night his Lincoln chased a friend's Cadillac over the Clearwater River bridge and up the Lewiston grade," the Web site said. "The telephone poles were whizzing by so fast they looked like picket fences as Charlie later referred to in his hit song."

The song concluded with the rueful line, "Son, you're gonna drive me to drinkin' if you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln!"

Mr. Ryan's version hit the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1960 and stayed there for six months. Many versions exist, with the words often altered by each new group.

Mr. Ryan is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

On July 19, 2003, "Charlie Ryan Day" was celebrated in Spokane and the state of Washington.

"Your song 'Hot Rod Lincoln' is an anthem for a generation," former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, said.

"Charlie is a state treasure," former Gov. Gary Locke wrote. "His musical career, which began in Spokane during the early 1930s, has spanned more than six decades. This is a remarkable testimony to his ability to delight and engage audiences of all ages."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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