One of eight children, Susan Pesklevits first began singing on local radio programs at 7 years old. Her family moved from Saskatoon to Vancouver when she was 9, where she joined the school and church choirs. She had her own radio show at 13 and made her first buck (literally) at age 14 singing at a legion dance in Haney, BC. By 15, she’d gained the attention of several music insiders on the west coast, and became a regular performer CBC-TV’s national afternoon teen program “Music Hop”, as well as a few other TV programs.
In early 1966, she formed a vocal trio with two other well known Vancouver performers, Howie Vickers (of Collectors and later Chilliwack fame) and Tom Northcott, under the name of The Eternal Triangle, releasing one single which did well on the local radio stations.
Later that year, she needed a guitar player to accompany her at a show in Hope, BC. At the suggestion of a friend, she called Terry Jacks and asked him if he was available to play guitar for her that night. His group had recently broken up and he consented. They performed at one or two coffee houses as a duo but Susan continued to perform as a solo artist on television and live performances until they added mutual friend, Craig McCaw on lead guitar. It was then she put her efforts into the newly formed trio. They chose the name Poppy Family and began performing at various venues around B.C. McCaw would soon introduce tabla player, Satwant Singh, to the group.
Susan and Terry married in 1967, and The Poppy Family released two singles less than two years later – “Beyond The Clouds” in 1968 and “What Can The Matter Be” in ’69, both of which did well on the local and national Canadian charts. It was with the release of their hit song “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” later in 1969 that the group achieved international success. The song earned two Gold Leaf Awards (precursor to the Juno) and two Moffatt Awards the following year, and sold close to 3 million copies while topping the charts internationally as well as in Canada, and hitting # 2 in the US.
Terry let Singh and McCaw go from the group in 1970 and began releasing singles under his own name, although they continued to release Susan’s singles and their occasional duet under the Poppy Family name. Their second and last album POPPY SEEDS produced several hits, “Where Evil Grows” reaching the top 100 on Billboard, and “Good Friends”, “I Was Wondering,” “No Good to Cry” and “I’ll See You There”, all of which peaked in the top 40 on the Canadian charts.
They set up their own label, Goldfish Records, and in 1972, the Poppy Family name was dropped, and Susan and Terry both began recording under their own names. Susan left the marriage in the spring of 1973 after she and Terry recorded their respective solo albums I THOUGHT OF YOU AGAIN (which contained five songs written by Terry, as well as Randy Bachman‘s “We Passed Each Other By”) and SEASONS IN THE SUN.
“The label was started by Terry and me but I gave the company to Terry when I left him. My album was released on Goldfish Records without discussion with me. That said, I had been kept out of the business side of our career and felt that it was probably in my best interest to ‘go with the flow’,” she explained. She was nominated for a Juno with her title track single, and several other songs on the album did well on the Canadian charts, as well.
Self-financed, and with Claire Lawrence (Collectors, Chilliwack) producing, she released DREAM in 2005 on Casino Records, but she removed the album from the shelves due to a dispute with the label. Susan took the label to court and won the case but the album became a casualty and, after a number of years in court, was never able to regain its initial impact. “During the court case, other record labels would not sign a contract with me for fear of getting involved in the lawsuit. I won the case but, in the process, I had DREAM removed from the shelves. As a result, the album is a collector’s item now and has received more acclaim than most of my other albums. Kind of amazing, I think,” she commented. Nevertheless, she received a Juno award nomination for “Anna Marie” and several other singles from the album also did well on the Canadian charts.
She recorded a number of singles over the next couple of years on A&M Records, including “Memories Are Made of You,” “Mr. Vincent’s Dancing Class,” and “Daytime Hustler.” Susan and her second husband Ted Dushinski, former Saskatchewan Roughrider and BC Lion, had a son in 1978, prompting her to take a year off to be a mother, returning to performing a year later. In 1980, she signed a contract with CBS Records and Terry Jacks negotiated with the label to produce her album GHOSTS. It was an odd set of circumstances, she said. “Terry had approached me to sing a song for him that he had another girl sing, but was unhappy with her performance. I thought it was a demo and agreed to do it. Terry used the song to convince the label that he should be the one to produce my next album. Very resourceful, but it wasn’t even my own decision.”
The first release from the album was “All The Tea In China,” which earned a Juno nomination, as well as “Ghosts In Your Mind” and “Concrete Sea.” Backed by a remake of one of The Poppy Family’s first songs – “Beyond The Clouds,” and the other singles “Evergreen,” “Fool Such As I” and “Twice As Strong.”
She hooked up with Bruce Allen Management in time for her next project. Produced by Tom Lavin (Powder Blues), FOREVER was released in 1982 through Columbia Records, which produced three singles, and some of her most critically-acclaimed material – the title track, “Out Of My Mind,” and “It Takes Two.”
Susan and her family packed up and moved to Nashville a year later, after signing a recording contract with Compleat Records. She won ‘Best New Female Country Artist’ in Oklahoma in 1984 after releasing the single “Tall Dark Stranger”, and was also nominated for a Juno that year for the subsequent “Another Woman’s Man.”
But the label folded a couple of years later, and she continued to record independently and released a number of singles, including “Tell Me About It,” co-written with Sharon Anderson and Ruth Cooper, and “Somebody’s Waiting For You.” She began to hone her writing skills and became a staff songwriter for a Nashville publishing company for many years, and had several songs cut by Canadian artists, most notably a song on a Grammy nominated children’s album called A CHILD’S GIFT OF LULLABYES.
She went on to manage a publishing company and then became involved in the corporate world as the COO of a telecommunications company. Susan and her family returned to Vancouver in 2004, a year and a half after Dushinski was diagnosed with lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease in 2005. She later co-wrote the theme song for the movie Last Chance Café, in which she also made an appearance.
Susan had been diagnosed with potential kidney failure in 2005 and, after performing a number of concerts in the Vancouver area, her kidneys gave out in the summer of 2009. Her brother Billy (one of six), whose name was used for the song “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” donated one of his kidneys to her, and she has since returned to the stage and recording.