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Susan Jacks, who sang 'Which Way You Goin' Billy?,' dies at 73
Released in 1969, the song, by her group the Poppy Family, was one of the biggest hits to come out of Canada to that point.

by Neil Genzlinger



NEW YORK, NY.- Susan Jacks, a Canadian vocalist known for her 1969 hit with the Poppy Family, “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” one of the top-selling records Canada had produced to that point, died April 25 in Surrey, British Columbia. She was 73.

Her brother Rick Pesklevits said in a Facebook post on behalf of the family that the cause was kidney disease. He said she died at a hospital and had been on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, which would have been her second.

As a teenager, Jacks was a regular on the Canadian show “Music Hop” when, in 1966, she needed an accompanist for a show at an Elks Club and turned to Terry Jacks, who had played guitar on the show. Soon they married, formed the Poppy Family and cut “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” Terry Jacks, who wrote the song, said it was inspired by the spectacle of young men going off to fight in Vietnam.

“Which way you goin’, Billy?” Susan Jacks sang. “Can I go too? Which way you goin’, Billy? Can I go with you?”

The song hit No. 1 in Canada and, soon after, No. 2 in the United States.

The Poppy Family and the Jackses’ marriage dissolved after a few years, and later there were dueling stories about “Billy.” The song was originally envisioned as “Which Way You Goin’, Buddy?” but Jacks said she suggested that her husband instead use the first name of one of her brothers. Terry Jacks, though, said in interviews that he took “Billy” from a song by a group he admired, the Beau-Marks, called “Billy, Billy Went a Walking.”

What is indisputable is that Susan Jacks’ brother Billy played a unique role for her: He donated the organ for her first kidney transplant, in 2010 — an operation that gave her a new lease on life.

“I had rosy cheeks for the first time in many years,” she told The Vancouver Sun a year after the surgery, when she was giving a fundraising concert in Coquitlam, British Columbia, for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Raising awareness about kidney disease and generating donations had become a cause for her.

“I knew nothing about kidney failure,” she said, until she was affected herself. “I knew nothing about transplants. I was so uneducated about how important it is and how much it means to people.”

Susan Elizabeth Pesklevits was born Aug. 19, 1948, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to Janette and Dick Pesklevits. She began singing as a child, performing with school bands. She said her mother saw an audition notice for “Music Hop,” and by 1964 she was a regular on it. She toured with a stage version of the show as well.

“Sue, as she is fondly called by members of the group, can swing with a hip tune as well as croon with sentimental ballads such as ‘Summertime,’” The Nanaimo Daily News of British Columbia wrote of a performance by the “Music Hop” road troupe in 1966.

The Poppy Family had a few other minor hits before breaking up. Susan Jacks released a few solo albums, including “Ghosts” (1980). In 1983 she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with her second husband, Ted Dushinski, working as a songwriter and running a pierogi restaurant for a time. She moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004.

Dushinski died of cancer in 2005, about the same time that Jacks learned that her kidneys were failing.

Jacks is survived by a son from her second marriage, Thad Dushinski, and six siblings, Rick, Gerry, Wayne, Bill, Cathy and Jim.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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