"Waking the Echos of the Spot" Dorothy Huston Hodel and Two Childhood Memories

November 14, 2017
Los Angeles, California










Kelvin, Michael, Steven Hodel circa 1944                       Dorothy Huston Hodel (Man Ray 1944)
One of my strongest childhood memory’s remains a song that our mother sang to us at bedtime. Not exactly your traditional lullaby, it was a love story, complete with Cowboys and Indians. I expect very few today are familiar with or have ever heard it sung. Even back then in the 1940s, it had almost become a lost ballad.  It was called–BILLY VENERO.
Several versions can be found on YouTube, with changing lyrics, but the rendition that is most true to what I remember of mother’s song is performed by “Yodeling Slim Clark.”    Without exaggeration, I would estimate that mother sang this ballad to us on an average of once a week during our “formative years.”  I loved it so much that in her final days at age 75, I had mother write the song out from memory so that I could preserve it and pass it on to my children. (Sadly, I never learned to sing and was constantly reminded by my more talented brothers, Mike and Kelvin,  “Steve, you couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow.”)  Here’s the ballad of Billy Venero with the lyrics almost exactly as mom sang it to us at five, six, and seven years of age.  Check it out.

         The Ballad of Billy Venero


Yodeling Slim Clark  sings  Billy Venero 




Here’s a link to his website which contains his autobiography. 



Memory No. 2  (A close second to Billy Venero)

Last night I exchanged emails with a writer friend who had mentioned he had recently completed a project which included his using some of Robert W. Service’s stylistic rhythm in his own original verse.
I wrote back telling him how much I enjoyed Service’s poems, in particular, his The Cremation of Sam McGee, which our mother would read to my brothers and me upon our frequent request. “Mom read about the man and the Midnight Sun.”  How we loved it.
Do yourself a favor and take nine minutes out of your life to listen to this YouTube rendition of it as read by Hal Jeayes–

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service read by Hal Jeayes.


  1. Patricia O'Neill on November 15, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Definitely an AZ ballad on the land of the Apache! Your mom quite a beauty, Steve. Perhaps Dorothy Hodel was a cowgirl at heart. We native CA’s are drawn to this Sonoran desert perhaps because it is such a natural accompaniment to our beautiful Pacific coast. Much that same music is still quite popular in Tucson “watering holes”. I am always thankful & somewhat amazed I landed in Tucson for good! Five of my seven grandchildren were born here in Tucson and while they are spread from East & West they now are requesting my paintings of desert scenes and I can’t think of a better place to call home. Plus I can leave here early morning and be in San Diego for lunch! It’s important that you have these wonderful memories to pass on to your children and grandchildren. So sing it loud and clear, they won’t notice if you’re off key!! Looking forward to “The Early Years” too! All the best Steve. Pat O’

    • Steve Hodel on November 15, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      Hi Patricia: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, mother was a special woman. Don’t know about the cowgirl but loved the beauty of the desert. She and dad were married in Sonora, Mexico in 1940 and she attended a number of the Sun and Rain dances performed by the Hopi and Navajo Indians in the mid to late 30s, when dad was a young doctor in NM and AZ on the reservations. Best, Steve

  2. Luigi Warren on November 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm


    Was it your sense that GHH shared your mother’s interest in things Western? We know about the nexus to the Red Mask “Lady Doom and the Death Wheel” comic via Tim Holt. Zodiac researchers have proposed the Halloween Card suggests familiarity with the work of Fred Harman, one of the founders of the Cowboy Artists of America and author of the popular “Red Ryder” comic strip. Harman had a cattle ranch with a brand that looked very similar to the mysterious pictogram on the card. The artist had links to Hollywood going back to the thirties, and to the Stendahl Art Galleries which showed Fred Sexton’s work.


    • Steve Hodel on January 5, 2018 at 11:30 am

      LW: Only two “Western” connections I associate with dad were: 1) Enjoyed Burl Ives ballads and going to hear him at the Hollywood Bowl and 2) His large collection of Kachina Dolls which he was given or had collected from his friend, Chief Tom Dodge back in the late Thirties when he was doctoring to the Indian Reservations in NM and AZ. skh

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