STARSTRUCK BY ELVIS PRESLEY and his early rock ‘n’ roll hits, Jim Neske formed a 5-piece band in 1958 at Port Angeles High School. The Moonlight Marauders – Neske (vocals), Lee Holcomb (guitar), Dick Gunnell (guitar), Larry Fish (sax), and Bill Ackerhausen (drums) – started out covering Little Richard hits and rocking P.A.’s skating rink and the Demolay Hall. Soon they were also gigging at community dances in nearby small towns and the Indian reservations all along the Olympic Peninsula.

The combo rehearsed at the Eden Valley grange hall located just outside of town. But then, tragically, on October 26, 1959, while en-route from a practice session, the boys wrecked their ’53 Plymouth coupe and Holcomb was killed. The band carried on though, first by adding Art Hamilton (guitar), then Alan Brunstad replaced Fish, and finally (after Hamilton dropped out) the Cassidy brothers, Ken (bass) and Pat (guitar) joined on.

The Marauders began breaking out on the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia teen-scene, making several appearances at the legendary teen-dance mecca along old Highway 99, the Spanish Castle ballroom. About this time the handsome Neske, entertaining visions of stardom, began searching for a stage name. In 1962 when a film of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth was released, Neske simply lifted the first name of the lead character (“Chance Wayne”) and came up with: Chance Eden.

It was in 1963 that Eden met Tacoma’s restaurateur and big-band leader, Art Mineo, who agreed to issue a solo single by Eden on his fledgling Birthstone label. “First Love Affair” / “Maybe I’ll Love Again” – two original pop numbers – were recorded with the backing of Bremerton, Washington’s early rockers, the Sharps, at Seattle’s old jingle studio, Commercial Productions. Upon its release, the single received a bit of hometown support when radio DJ Charles Herring began airing it on P.A.’s KAPY station.

Meanwhile, Mineo – a New Yorker who had previously worked with top East Coast acts like Paul Whiteman;’s Orchestra and the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, was also a talent scout for renowned production team of Hugo & Luigi, then with Roulette Records. Just a few years prior, Roulette had signed Camas, Washington’s Jimmie “Honeycomb” Rodgers, the modern-day folksinger who went on to sell a million copies each of is first ten releases. So, Roulette was actively interested in what other talents might be lurking out in the Northwest. So, when Luigi Creatore passed through Seattle in mid-1964 Mineo arranged for Eden to audition at the Hilton Hotel’s VIP lounge.  Impressed by the young singer’s rich, smooth vocal style, Creatore returned to New York and sent for Eden a few months later.

On November 23, 1964, at age 22, Eden signed a six-year contract with Roulette. And, only weeks later his single “You’d Better Go” / “The Things I Love” was issued with the beautiful A-side ballad making its radio debut on NYC’s WMCA. Then, on December 26th Eden appeared on ABC-TV’s Dick Clark Show, as broadcast from station KPIX, singing his hit, “You’d Better Go.” The song began receiving airplay nationally and charted in the major music trade magazines, Billboard and Cash Box. From there Eden set out on an extended concert tour with Roy Orbison, Bobby Goldsboro, and Bob Luman – a tour that bypassed the Seattle market, but did include a date at Western Washington State College in Bellingham.

Back in NYC, Eden formed a few working groups including the Enemies and the Front Line – performing in many of the noted rooms of the day including Café Wha?, the Nite Owl, and the Purple Onion in San Francisco. At one point Eden’s group boasted Steve Boone who soon went on to help form the Lovin’ Spoonful. In 1966 Eden cut a version of the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” that featured a powerhouse horn section that would later gain fame as the band Chicago.  This disc, as with Eden’s other Roulette releases (“Cry,” “Another Love,” “I Could Have Loved You”) saw promising chart action but never quite developed into genuine hits.

Eden was booked on further tours with many of the happening acts of the era: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Tommy James & the Shondells, Sonny & Cher, etc. In addition, he was hired to speak the lead role on the English language over-dubs for the 1966 Czech flick, Lemonade Joe, a spoof of the spaghetti Western genre that took awards at the Cannes Film Festival.

Eden also kept recording until he completed what would have been his debut LP – an album slated to include smoldering versions of “Sweet Dream Baby,” and the tuff “Yer Ma Said You Cried” (which later became a hit for the Turtles). But Roulette was not treating him fairly, the album was never released, and Eden and the label parted ways bitterly. In 1969 Eden/Neske finally grew tired of the whole music biz game and returned home to the Northwest. In 1973 he moved his young family to Whatcom County’s Sudden Valley and in the years hence became very successful in real estate. 

[Note: This is an edited version of an essay that originally appeared in the “Northwest Music Archives” column of Seattle’s The Rocket magazine back in August, 1983.]

Text copyright © 1985, 2014 by Peter Blecha.