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Professor’s ‘Motel’ mystery needs you to solve it

Tue., May 22, 2012, midnight

I don’t want to brag, but the only time college professors ever contact me is to insult my grammar or scold me for lowering the bar of general discourse.

So imagine my surprise when Larry Cebula, an associate history professor at my alma mater, Eastern Washington University, sent me an email seeking my wisdom.

“Dear Doug …,” he wrote.

“Does anyone know which motel Tom T. Hall was staying in when he wrote the ‘Spokane Motel Blues’?”

You know, Larry, there was a time when I could have probably answered that riddle in a downbeat.

I even used to sing and strum the cry for help that the marooned country performer wrote in the early 1970s after a post-concert blizzard grounded his flight back home.

Consider a few of Hall’s lines:

The dogs are running down in Memphis

And them nags are running in L.A. yeah

I’m stuck in Spokane in a motel room

And there ain’t no way to get away

Recorded and released nationally on the Mercury label, Hall’s song put Spokane on the map.

Of course, the sentiment was: “Get me the hell outta here!!!”

But, hey, publicity is publicity, right?

As I recall, there was a minor flap about the song from some of the city’s stuffed shirts.

I, however, have always found “Spokane Motel Blues” to be quite endearing.

Alas, thanks to encroaching senility, the information Cebula seeks escapes me.

Plus I’m too lazy to troll the Internet or take an elevator ride down to the newspaper’s library and paw through yellowed 1970s clip files.

It’s easier and a lot more fun to tap my Clark-reading brain trust.

Here’s the deal:

A cool prize will be awarded to readers who supply the best and most verifiable answers to Cebula’s inquiry.

(Send your responses through the contact information below. Be sure to leave your name and a phone number.)

We’ll revisit this topic in a future column. In the meantime, you’re probably wondering why a teacher of history would want to know details about a song that never hit the charts.

Cebula, 51, is more of an iProf.

He spends part of his work time as the assistant digital archivist at the Washington State Archives, which is located on the EWU campus.

His other gig is with the school’s history department, where he teaches, among other things, a Thursday night class on digital history.

One of the projects his Internet-savvy students are working on is Spokane Historical, a smartphone app on – you guessed it – Spokane history.

The app features a map showing users where they are and pop-ups that will let users explore the wonders of, say, The Davenport Hotel or take a tour through Bing Crosby’s Spokane.

These “stops,” as they are called, can contain photos and related video material.

But it’s important for the material to be lively and brief. “People don’t want to read ‘War and Peace’ on their smartphones,” Cebula said.

This is a terrific idea that not only immerses students in our history, it lets them re-imagine the material in a thoroughly modern context.

Cebula gets it.

He sees how the Digital Revolution has changed the learning process. His students, he says, “now have information sprayed at them with a fire hose.”

Digital or not, however, the danger of any history project is being too dry.

Not everything in the app should be “architecture and people who have neighborhoods named after them (Glover, Cannon, etc.),” Cebula wrote in his email.

Hence the “Spokane Motel Blues.” Cebula says it came up when he played the recording during a class.

Midway through the song, he realized he was listening to a perfect stop for the digital Spokane tour. But nothing he could find answered the question of which motel Hall was stuck in.

A “piece about probably the most popular song ever to have Spokane in the title would be good,” he wrote. “But we need to know where to place it – any idea?”

You have your homework, class, so let the illuminating begin.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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