Gary: “This is going to be one of those ‘Canadian Nights ‘. I live in a huge country, 2nd largest in the world. If you travel from East to West or West to East somewhere in the middle there is a city called Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I have been there many times, but somewhere in the late 60’s and early 70’s they had quite a music scene happening. Out of that scene came one of the most successful bands in Canada, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and of course ‘The Guess Who’.
Also around that time there were a couple of fairly successful songwriters / singers and that’s the focus for tonight.
In 1966, at the age of 18, Susan Pesklevits needed a rhythm guitar player to accompany her at an engagement in Hope, British Columbia, Canada. She called the guitar players she knew but none were free to play that night.
One friend suggested she call Terry Jacks because his local group had disbanded and he just may be available to play for her. Terry was available and this was the beginning of what would become the Poppy Family.
Although Susan continued with her solo career over the next few months by appearing on television shows and doing live performances, she and Terry played the occasional coffee house.
In early 1967, Susan and Terry added friend Craig McCaw on lead guitar. It was then Susan made the decision to dedicate her time to the newly formed trio. They initially used “Powerline” as a group name but never felt it was right for them.
Still, they began to build a very strong following in Vancouver and surrounding areas. Later in 1967, during a break at one of their rehearsals, they began looking through magazines and newspapers searching for inspiration to choose a new group name.
They also looked through the dictionary where they came across “poppy family; varied species of flowing plant…..” and knew it was the right name for them. Susan and Terry were married in late 1967 after a short courtship and Susan Pesklevits became Susan Jacks.
In 1968, Craig McCaw introduced Satwant Singh to the group. Craig’s interest in East Indian music led him to learn the sitar and in the process he met Satwant who played East Indian drums called tablas.
The Poppy Family now had a unique sound unlike any other group at the time. With Susan’s vocals, Craig’s distinctive guitar sound and Satwant’s East Indian influence, the Poppy Family quickly earned a reputation of creativity and uniqueness.
Terry Jacks began writing original material and the Poppy Family recorded and released their first single “Beyond The Clouds” in 1968, through a lease deal with London Records.
In early 1969 their second single “What Can The Matter Be?” was released, also through London Records.
Later in 1969, the group released what would be their biggest international hit single “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” The song was recorded for a couple of hundred dollars in a Vancouver recording studio.
Initially, they went to Los Angeles looking for an American recording contract but were unsuccessful, returning to Vancouver and signing a full contract with London Records.
The single reached number one in Canada, number one in Cashbox and number two in Billboard in 1970. The song, written by Terry Jacks sometime earlier, was originally called “Which Way You Goin’ Buddy?” and sung from a male’s point of view.
Susan suggested the song be re-written for a female whereby she and Terry went about looking for a name to use in place of “buddy”. With Susan’s six brothers’ names as a starting point, her brother Billy’s name was chosen.
Terry would release Satwant Singh and Craig McCaw from the group after the success of “Billy”. In 2010, Billy would donate a kidney to save Susan’s life when she was faced with kidney failure and needed a kidney transplant.
The Poppy Family, now with only Susan and Terry, would have two more internationally charted singles with “That’s Where I Went Wrong” and “Where Evil Grows” although, working closely in the studio, they continued to have several hit singles on the Canadian charts through 1972.
It was then Terry Jacks made the decision to drop the group name. Although he had been releasing songs under his own name for a number of years, songs sung by Susan continued to be released under the Poppy Family name.
Terry had, over time, lost his interest in touring and performing so their live performances were scarce. The couple recorded two solo albums, Susan’s “I Thought of You Again” album and Terry’s “Season In The Sun” album, both released in 1973. Susan left the marriage that year.
, whose birth name was Susan Pesklevits, went through several different career stages. Early on, she performed on her own, appearing on Music Hop, a CBC-TV production where she met , the man she would later wed.
later telephoned her future spouse when she needed a guitarist to back her at a gig where she was scheduled to sing. ‘ group, , had already disbanded and so he agreed to fill in.
From there the pair formed a duo and started to perform at small nightspots. Another career shift brought and her husband into a group setting, where they would join with Satwant Singh, a tabla player, and Craig McCaw, a guitarist, to form .
The group earned international recognition with “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” In 1969, the single earned four Juno Awards. , who had an aversion to live performances, downsized the following year by dismissing and McCaw.
Still using the name of , and her husband scored on the charts with “Where Evil Grows” and “That’s Where I Went Wrong.” The band brought another guitarist on board for live gigs that they were pressured to make and also for studio recordings.
By 1973, and each went solo. released an eponymous album that same year. Her husband acted as producer for the recording, which spawned “I Want You to Love Me” and “I Thought of You Again.” The latter song was written by her husband and received a nomination for a Juno Award.
That same year, she ended the marriage. The singer put together a backing band that she dubbed “and went on tour. The singles “Tall Dark Stranger,” “Anna Marie,” and “All the Tea in China” helped earn her another Juno nomination.
In 1975, worked on her next album, , but it was kept from market by Ray Pettinger, her husband’s former business associate at Goldfish Records.
Pettinger christened the label Casino Records after he purchased ‘ interest in the business. filed a lawsuit against Pettinger for using her funds to finance the buyout. She won her lawsuit, but at the cost of her album and several years of downtime for her career.
By 1980, however, she was back and recording for CBS, which put out her album. Once again, acted as her producer. She put out two years later, with producer .
By 1983, had a new husband, Ted Dushinski of the Canadian Football League, and a new record deal in Nashville, where she relocated that year. The album Tall Dark Stranger came out the following year and she also snagged another Juno nomination.
Trouble sprouted within a few years, however, when her new label went belly up. concentrated on songwriting rather than singing for about five years. She spent time in a managerial position at a music publishing business and later rose to the position of vice president at a consulting company. Still in Nashville, owns part of a telecommunications business.
It’s been a long time since “Seasons in the Sun” became a monster hit for Canadian , but the syrupy 1974 single is still top dog among all best-sellers issued by Canadian acts.
The release spent more than three months on the U.S. charts and more than four months on the charts in ‘ native country. Its accumulated sales topped more than 11 million copies. , who moved on to producing for artists such as , , , and , reaped the good life from the monster hit’s royalties, which he acknowledged by naming his power boat Seasons in the Sun.
Royalties also spill in from “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” He and former wife Susan Pesklevits recorded the song under the name in 1969. The release hit number two in the U.S. and topped the Canadian charts, raking in four Juno Awards and selling more than two million copies.
Power boats and hit singles aside, life hasn’t all been smooth sailing for . His marriage to Pesklevits dissolved in 1973. A second marriage produced a daughter, Holly, and later charges of spousal abuse.
According to Canada’s CNEWS, when officers in Sechelt, British Columbia, arrived at ‘ home in 2001, they leveled a charge of improperly storing a firearm against him in addition to the abuse charge, although the rifle was not related to the alleged assault.
As a youth, resisted family pressures to turn him into an architect. Favouring music instead, he joined the Vancouver-based Chessmen, playing guitar and providing vocals on a pair of singles released by London Records and on two more released by Mercury Records during the mid-’60s.
met his first wife through ‘s appearance on Music Hop, a Canadian television program. Eventually the pair formed after recruiting guitarist Craig McCaw and Satwant Singh, who played the tabla.
Before “Which Way You Goin’ Billy” landed the group in the spotlight, and released two singles that didn’t go anywhere, “What Can the Matter Be” and “Beyond the Clouds.”
Later they scored two lesser hits, “Where Evil Grows” and “That’s Where I Went Wrong.” But did not take well to performing live. That aversion, coupled with the pressures of stardom, led to his decision to break up the band.
In 1973, he produced his wife’s eponymous debut album and wrote one of the songs, “I Thought of You Again,” which garnered a Juno Award nomination. Despite their working relationship, or perhaps because of it, and his wife split that year.
A major concern for the musician is environmental pollution, and he has transformed himself into something of a major obstacle for large-scale pulp and logging companies that are suspected of non-compliance with Canadian pollution laws. To that end, he established an organization called Environmental Watch.