Arthur Shelton, sailor, jazzman and longtime Marshall fixture, passed away peacefully last month at the Country Villa medical facility in Petaluma. He was 76. Arthur was a big and stocky good-natured man who spent his last years looking down on his beloved Marshall community from his apartment over the boatyard. Widely known as “Captain Nasty,” Arthur was an entertainer and committed friend.
“He was a darling man,” said Janice Labao, his friend of 37 years. “He was sweet and generous, he always made me laugh. He was wonderful.”
Arthur was born in 1934 in Seattle, Washington to Sebert and Margareta Shelton. Sebert was a union organizer in the 1920s and 30s for the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the “Wobblies.” Sebert was a vaudevillian musician and performer, along with his wife and seven children. Arthur’s siblings Bud, Kayo, Sebert, Ione, Ina and Hazel all played jazz instruments. Arthur, the youngest, grew up playing the trombone. The Sheltons were proud descendents of the celebrated Irish-British General Montgomery, who died leading the failed 1775 invasion of Canada.
In 1938 the Shelton family moved to Shelton, a small rural town in northwestern Washington. Sebert started a small farm, and Arthur learned to sail. Arthur and his friends were fond of building rafts and attempting to sail them back and forth across Oakland Bay, which was about 400 meters across at its narrowest point. Invariably, they would sail across and not be able to harness the winds for the return trip. They would end up walking back miles up and around the northern bank of the inlet. But Arthur always convinced his friends to sail out again with him the next week. Rope-tied rafts later matured into yachts, and sailing was Arthur’s great love for the remainder of his life.
Arthur also discovered the joys of smoking marijuana in rural Shelton. Even after he was caught by his father and punished when he was eight, cannabis remained a pleasure and pastime for Arthur. “He was an old, salty sea captain who loved to get high,” said his old friend Stephen Bowers.
Arthur joined the Air Force when he came of age. As an educated, talented musician and performer, Arthur was put to work organizing United Service Organization (USO) shows in Florida and Alaska before troops were deployed to Korea. He helped get legendary performers like Johnny Grant, the radio personality and honorary Hollywood mayor, to entertain the soldiers. It was the golden age for the USO show—there was a USO performance every day in various camps around the world in 1953.
When he was relieved from active service in 1954, Arthur took up residence at the fabled Jazz institution Quincy Jones’ Sister’s Boarding House in Seattle. Every jazz musician that passed through Seattle would stay at the Boarding House. Arthur met jazz legend Ray Charles, an experience he thought was nice. He also met trombone master and father of bebop J.J. Johnson, an experience he thought was rapturous. Arthur turned all of his musical talent towards bebop.
After two or three years at the Boarding House, Arthur moved to Berkeley. There he was a regular bebop player at Mandrake’s, a small jazz club on University Avenue that featured bebop, soul, blues and rock and roll.
By 1965, Arthur wanted to be back in the country, sailing and breathing the wet salt air. He packed up and moved to the Marshall Hotel. Eventually he found a place to live on Millerton Point. He walked the ranches between Marshall and Point Reyes, and bought his first boat, The Chicken of the Sea. It was an old, used cabin cruiser. It had some rust, but it was seaworthy and he loved it.
Sailing again inspired him to write a short poem: “Here’s to Captain Nasty, leader of the fleet. Seldom would you find him without a deck beneath his feet.” The name stuck. Decades later, at his 65th birthday blowout, all his friends raised their glasses to Arthur and proclaimed, “Here’s to Captain Nasty!”
Arthur got a job at the local dump. The owner, Elmer Martinelli, hired him and later remarked that he was a hard and determined worker. Eventually Arthur got a job cleaning the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) building in Marshall. He worked there for over 20 happy years.
Arthur was able to sail and fish, and he saved enough money to buy a beautiful home over the boat works. The Chicken of the Sea, which eventually became known as the “stinkpot,” gave way to The High Priestess—a beautiful 26-foot sailboat. The Priestess was retired in favor of other boats, his last being The Lark, a 29-footer. “He sure loved that sailboat,” said boat works manager Jeremy Fisher-Smith. “He liked to go out and race people. He had great faith that his boat was a swift sailor.”
In 1994 Arthur lost his right leg to diabetes, and he was suffering heart and back problems. He had still not fully recovered from a triple bypass heart surgery from 1988. The doctors admitted that taking his leg was a bad call, and Arthur was awarded a significant settlement. He immediately organized a big party for all of his friends, and he never lamented losing the ability to walk. After all, he could still sail.
“We sailed up until 2005. We’d take him up on the boat and go sailing,” Bowers said. “In the old days there used to be a lot more boats on the bay, and a lot of those people knew him well.”
Arthur was a generous man. When his friend’s daughter was struggling to make college payments, he bought her a car and sent her $100 each month for tuition. “He even taught my kids, Kim and David, how to sail while I was working at the Marshall Tavern,” Labao said.
Even casual acquaintances were great admirers of Arthur. “It was almost spiritual when you talked to him, because he was so kind, open and loving,” said Janet Villicich.
He was politically aware, and when he wasn’t watching old cowboy or war films on television, he watched the news. “He was always locked into current events, and talked about the news,” Labao said. “He had a very liberal mind, and we both had trouble with right-wing politics.”
From his perch above the boatyard, Arthur became the self-appointed neighborhood watch. “He used to yell at me out the window if anything was wrong,” Fisher-Smith said. “I would hear him playing his horn a lot, the music wafting over, the occasional phrase.” Arthur would sit by the window, taking in the night and keeping an eye out.
“One time, late in the night, he saw people with a truck loading up the chairs outside of the Marshall Store,” Labao said. “He opened his window, stuck out his trombone and blew it at them. They dropped the chairs, got in the truck and sped off. It was fantastic.”
Another time, Arthur saw a kayaker fall into the water and get tangled up with his equipment. Arthur was able to summon help quickly enough to rescue the drowning man. “He felt himself to be the commodore of the boatyard,” Labao said.
Arthur Shelton is survived by his sister Hazel, brother Kayo, and numerous friends across the West Coast. There will be a memorial service announced in this newspaper.