This page is under construction as of 3/29/24 to commemorate the life and contributions of Bob Nelson, Everett, WA who passed Feb 2024.  Email to offer a submission:
Look for a tribute to Bob at the Tribute to Silent Voices Friday May 24, 2024 at Northwest Folklife Festival

Also a Mudcat threat about Bob: 

From Bruce Baker

Mourning the loss of Bob Nelson of Everett, WA. Also known as the Deckman, he worked bhuilding decks and also in maintenance at UW. But best known for his exceptional knowledge of PNW Folk Music heritage. Bob changed my life in his performance skills workshop RainyCamp 2009. What a master at making it natural.
Photo Julie Muhlstein 2019  Everrett Herald all rights reserved. permission pending
From Pushkara Sally Ashford
Our dear friend and fellow folksinger, Bob Nelson, has passed,
Bob Nelson – For Pete’s Sake:
Bob Nelson, video interview and songs that my daughter, Wendy, and I made “For Pete’s Sake!” in 2014. Bob tells at length about his start in folksinging, his membership as a teen in Seattle Folksinging Society, and his various interactions with Pete Seeger and playing for and among organizations on the left that attracted the attention of the FBI.
In this video, Bob brings us up to date talking about his life work, culminating in the collaboration with John Ashford to produce the Bob Nelson UW Folkmusic Archive housed at Suzallo Library.
Bob came out to Whidbey Island with his wife, Judy, for this interview in the gypsy wagon I designed and had crafted for SingPeace! Pilgrimage for Peace & Global Harmony in advance of an 8-hour gathering of NW singers on Whidbey Island and nearby communities, “For Pete’s Sake!”
I asked Bob to sing, “Who will sing for me?”
On that note: too much to say and lots more to celebrate of Bob’s life and music. He was as much a shepherd of those of us in the NW folkmusic community, as he was a performer and archivist. We love you, Bob!
From David Perasso, Seattle March 2024

I met Bob Nelson around 2010 when I started going to Stew Hendrickson’s house jams. At first I didn’t see anything too special about him. He was just an old folk singer, like me, only a bit older. But soon his friendly personality won me over. Soon I was invited to Bob’s jams at his place in Everett. 15 to 20 of us, in his back yard singing. With food on the table in the kitchen and back room. A warm, friendly house with an interesting “barn.”

The “barn” was where I saw another side of Bob, his woodworking side. He was a master craftsman and that was his workshop. Filled with tools, many of them of the older styles, made to last and meant to be used by a highly skilled craftsman (which he was). I loved spending time in his workshop, listening to him talk about the tools and the things he had made.

After Bob and Judy moved to the retirement home, Bob frequently called me. Often just to say hello, but mostly when he has a story or some information to share. He also shared his thoughts and helped me think thru some decisions I had to make. Bob was not only fun, and helpful, and skilled, but he was a good friend. You couldn’t help liking him. I miss him and always will.

Bob Nelson Remembered
Stewart Hendrickson

Soon after moving to Seattle from Minnesota in 1996 I met Bob Nelson who invited me to a hoot at his house. This was the beginning of a long friendship. He introduced me to a wealth of old folksongs and many local folk musicians. He also told me about the Pacific Northwest Folklore Society, founded in Seattle in 1953 but then no longer active.

I became disillusioned with the Seattle Folklore Society, which then brought many out-of-town singer-songwriters but not much traditional folk music to Seattle. I felt we needed an outlet in Seattle for the more traditional folk music. Bob and I had an idea to revive the old Pacific Northwest Folklore Society in order to present and preserve the more traditional music and provide a venue for traditional folk musicians, particularly those from our region. We started small with monthly concerts, which we called “c0ffee house concerts,” beginning with a “reunion concert” with Bob Nelson and Don Firth in 2007. We also produced a web site where Bob contributed many articles on local folk music. The Society exceeded our expectations and ended up with monthly concerts at the Couth Buzzard Bookstore and an extensive website. Bob’s knowledge of folk music and the local traditional folklore contributed much to this endeavor.

As Bob’s health deteriorated, he resigned as a co-director of the Society but we continued to remain close friends. He regularly contacted me to see how I was doing and to tell me his old jokes (groan!) and stories about local folklore. He was a regular participant in our monthly house jams until he and Judy moved into a retirement home in Everett and could no longer travel down to Seattle.

Bob’s interest in folk music went back to the early 1950’s when he was a teenager in the Seattle area. He helped found the Pacific NW Folklore Society along with Walt Robertson, Don Firth, and others. He taught me much about folk music and local folklore, and was always a welcome friend. It is sad to see him go, sort of like the end of an era, but the traditions will continue, hopefully, with others taking his place. All I can say is that Bob was “one of a kind.” We will miss him.

Stewart Hendrickson
Seattle, 1996–2023
Fairfax, California, 2024

Some Stories from Bob Morgan

The following are some stories that Bob Nelson shared with friends. note: I edited obvious typos.

David Perasso 23 April 2024


I worked for the city of Mountlake Terrace (MLT) for six and a half years as the city carpenter. My salary came from the Parks dept., and I was a member of the Public Works dept. All told, we were about twenty five in number: Parks, Street, Sewer, water. The public works foreman was a character named “Chet Duke.” (long dead, thank goodness).


He was basically a “bully.” Very talented in some ways, but a bully none the less. His leadership style was a cross between “Atilla THE Hun” and donald trump. He could yell louder, pee higher, and out cuss anyone within ten miles. He was a jerk of the first water.


But he got things done, one way or the other. The infrastructure of a city is vital to safety. Water main breaks flood houses, sewer ruptures can kill people, He was an artist on machinery. He could climb on a backhoe, in the middle of the nights, and locate a broken water main like no one else I ever saw,


But he was also downright dangerous. He would yell and intimidate new workers until they made mistakes, hurt themselves and quit. Behind his back he was often called “FESTER F**CK UP”. Monthly he would be called into his City manager’s office to get chewed out for something he had done… but he got thing done… like it or not.


MLT has a magnificent recreation building. It houses an Olympic size swimming pool, sauna, many dance floors and meeting rooms, a restaurant, et. Every August, this large building was shut down for annual maintenance. The boiler was punched and inspected, painting was done, I would re-build the sauna, etc. And the swimming pool was drained of water.


This was a multi million dollar building with very high arched, glue lam beams. Because of the noise caused by a pool full of kids swimming and yelling, the ceiling had been retro-fitted with suspended acoustical tile. These were large, about four feet square designed to absorb sound.


One year, one of the swimming coaches allowed the high school lids to have volley balls in the water to toss around. Within one week, they had dislodged many of the ceiling tile, forty feet in the air. They had to be placed back where they belonged.


The City Manger and the fire chief came to me with a plan. If they promised me a safe work arrangement, would I be willing to climb up there and do the task. Bow that the pool was empty, the height would be about 50 feet to the concrete pool floor. They told me it was voluntary. on my part. I agreed.


On the day of that task, the firetruck arrived and eight fire boys got out. I knew them all very well. They went to the center of the pool bottom and raised a 49 foot telescoping ladder vertically. They had four strong ropes tied to the top. Two firemen got on each rope and went to the four corners if the pool. They assured me that it would be safe and up I went.


The first two tiles were re-set easily. As they leaned the ladder a little to one side so I could reach another tile, I had to “monkey-leg” one leg through the top rung so I had both hands free.


Just as I was doing that, looking up at the tile, Chet Duke jumped in to the walked over to the base of the ladder and kicked it with his foot. Then he yelled up at me… “faster Nelson”!


Of course I hadn’t seen him coming, but the vibration coming up the ladder scared the hell out of me. I grabbed and hugged the ladder with both hands and froze.


There were probably 20 people watching this operation besides the fireman. They all yelled. As it turned out, present was also the fire chief, the city manager, and one cop.


The fire chief yelled for everyone to be silent. I was still hugging the ladder frozen. “Tom Mee”, one of the fireman I knew well, jumped down to the pool bottom and started talking with me quietly He offered to come up and “buddy walk” me down. But he just slowly talked me down step by step.


As I caught my breath, I saw Chet Duke (Fester F**uck-up) being driven away in police car. They had arrested him.


The next day the City Manager and Police Chief asked if wanted to press charges. I said no, and Chet Duke avoided me the rest of my time there.


p.s. I left the City a year later. Years later I learned that he had been fired for another similar incident He moved to Alaska where he was killed in a bar fight.


Bob Nelson December 2020


In the late forty’s and early fifties, Seattle became known for an entirely new style of architecture. With interruption of the second world war not too much had happened since Frank Lloyd Wright. But during my father’s early building years, he become the favorite builder for a group of seven architects that created the Northwest Style.


All of these inventive designers became close family friends. Some were neighbors of ours. Some of their names were” Paul Kirk, Ralph Anderson, Fred Bessette.I used to baby sit for some of their children when I was in high school.


Fred’s house was just below ours and we could see his roof. Dad had built his home and it had a most unusual style of roof. Rather than a standard “pitched roof” where the center of the roof was high and rain flowed outward, this “bitterly” design was just the opposite. The center of the roog was the lowest point and all the rain water flowed to a central downspout in the muddle of the house.


It was a clever design that allowed all the house ceilings to expand out toward the edges of the house, like wings. There was one design flaw that didn’t appear until the first bad rain storm.


All that water rushing down the downspout in the center of the house make so much noise that no one could sleep. Fred called Dad at midnight that night and asked if Dad could fix it. Dad said he would the next day, but it would cost him$100.


The next morning, Dad went to a hardware store, bought twenty feet of rope, tied it to the top and dropped the rope down the downspout. it silenced the water.


Everyone knows that water will travel down a rope!




I worked as the City carpenter for the City of Mountlake Terrace (MLT) for six years. The pay was not very good, but we were raising three children and needed the stability of income. The construction industry runs in a predictable eleven year cycle, the economy would be hot. Then every six years, it would be the opposite. It was always “feast or famine.”


As “city carpenter”. I did many interesting jobs besides making many park picnic tables. I carved large park signs, re-modeled the Major’s office, then he Police Chief’s s office, then the Fire Chief’s office, then the Mayor’s office again! (true).


Early in 1972, a construction company from Chicago built us a three million gallon water tank in the middle of one of our parks. This was huge, about fifty feet in diameter and two hundred feet high.


No sooner was it done before it became a serious safety problem. At night, the local town teenagers would pull their P.U. trucks under the steel ladder that was high off the ground, and climb the ladder and sit on the dome top and smoke pot.


We made many efforts to discourage this. We surrounded it with a steel wire fence, put up night lights, etc. The local kids just viewed out efforts to save their lives as a challenge. We did have one death. That was when the City Council got excited and demand that we do “something.”


The answer came from a neighboring City (Edmonds) that had a similar problem/. Their fire department came over to our water tank and trained six of us in how to use a “two man safety harness.” This was a ‘girdle’ of strong canvass straps that you would climb into. It also included a second ‘girdle’ that we could strap another person in and help him climb down the long ladder to the ground.


One problem was that once you actually were on the round dome top of the water tank, there was no horizon. You easily lost your balance, your orientation, and could fall.


We trained for several Saturdays and I was one of the six volunteers to add my name to the cop list.


Sure enough, one night about midnight. Bob Fox, the then Police Chief, called me at home and said they had someone stuck at the top of the ladder. He needed help getting down.


I got there and what a scene! There were many cop cars not just from MLT, but also from Edmonds and Lynnwood. I put on the harness and started up. When I got up tp the guy, I saw what the excitement was all about. The guy “frozen” up was Capt. Beuhler” of the MLT Police Dept. He had decided to climb the tower alone, in the middle of the night, and arrest two kids that were up their smoking pot!


I strapped him into his harness and down we went. It was slow going, I had to coach him every step of the way. He was terrifies He peed his pants and worse.


When got close to the ground, on came all of the spot lights from a dozen cop cars. A reporter from the MLT newspaper was there to take a picture. Sirens were blowing and Capt. Beuhler got the teasing of his life.


There were still two kids on top, but they came down on their own.


The City Mayor gave me the next day off!


BOB NELSON           DECEMBER 2020


Over the course if my growing up years, I rubbed shoulders and shared bad jokes with well over 100 carpenters. These men were all very talented in many different ways. “Ted Wicklund” would occasionally bring his Kentucky fiddle to work and entertain us at lunch time. His black “SCOTTY” dog loved beer and would entertain us with his drunken dancing to Ted’s fiddling.


Various carpenters taught me some of the fine and mystery arts of carpentry. How to sharpened a hand saw for a left handed sawyer. How to read the grain in wood. Never spit upwind! On and on, they taught me and my wise father always encouraged them.


But there was one lesson that still burns in my memory. It involves two guys who just could never get along with each other. One was named “Shorty Weller and “Jim Hughes.”


They were both very fine carpenters, each within their own job specialists Shorty could spot a bad board at 60 feet. Kim was an artist with a truck or a bulldozer. But these two guys just hater each other. If Dad made the mistake of putting them on the same house building crew, disaster was always waiting.


I once saw the two of the them measuring the span between to two outside walls of a house we were building. It was probably about 24 feet. This was days before “trusses” and we stick framed everything on the job site. (a lost art today)!


Shorty held one end of his long tape and Jim read the other. But I happened to see that Shorty was holding his hand a few inches away, short, of the top wall plate. They then went to work and cut up over $300 worth of 2X6 lumber. When they went to put them in place, of course they were too short.


Each blamed the other and Dad fired them both, after deducting the price of the lumber from their checks.


They would hide each others hammer, steal their saws, let the air out of their truck tires. It became downright dangerous to let them be on the same job site.


About a year later, Jim Hughes went to work as a concrete truck driver for one of the local refi-mix companies, Dad had re-hired Shorty Wells. On this project, we were building about a dozen homes south of Renton, just past “Black Monster Road.” It was a large building site where we built about a dozen home, quite close to each other. We had dug all the foundations, built forms and on this day, we were pouring all the concrete for all the houses. We had a dozen concrete trucks lined up ready to move from one house foundation to the next.


I was about three houses away as I saw the most awesome site, Here was Jim Hughes, backing his concrete truck up to the first pout spot, being guided by no other than “Shorty Wells.”


It was raining, the view in Jim’s mirror was poor. All he saw was a carpenter n overalls making 0hand signals to safely guide him back to the pour spot.


Sure enough, Shorty purposefully guided Jim, and his concrete full of red-concrete right off the edge of the berm between the houses and onto the forms!


There were about thirty of us that job site that day. We all ran over and pulled Jim out of his truck. He was shaken but O.k. Shorty had laughed and run for his truck, but some of the carpenters grabbled him.


Dad went to the construction shack and called the Sheriff. He came out and arrested Shorty.


We finished the concrete pour as best we could. That “roller truck” of concrete lay on it’s side for over a week until the concrete company got two cranes out to remove it.


I never saw “Shorty” on another of Dad’s projects.




During the year of 1952, I was working for Milt Topping who owned “five corners Lumber Yard.” This was in the Burien area and was quite a successful and growing local business. My brother who preceded me there by five years had laid a welcome path for me to follow. I worked after school and weekends. I cut studs on a gang saw, stacked lumber, waited on customers and delivered lumber.


Yeah yeah, I know, I was only 15 and I didn’t have a driver’s license yet. But you must realize that that things were different in those days It was a much quieter time. The Burien area was very rural and everyone knew everyone.


One day the boss, Milt Topping ordered me to load a dozen 20 foot 2X6’s in his personal P.U. truck and deliver them to a job site in Des Moines. I loaded them, but they were hanging out the back of the truck by a good eight feet. We stapled a big red flag on the end of the load and away I went!


Driving south on first avenue south from “five corners” to “Des Moines” was always an adventure. It was downhill all the way. I mean really DOWN HILL!


There were there very sharp curves… I knew the road very well. On the first curve, I lost my brakes. I think I said bad words. I knew that the third curve was right on the cliff above Puget Sound, and if I lost it there, I would get wet, at the very least.


So I purposefully rolled the truck at the second curve.


Because the long boards were sticking so far out the back of the truck, they acted like a pendulum and swung me around and around. Boy, was that ever fun!


My boards ended up flying down the road several hundred feet, just as if they had been shot from a sling shot. My truck was on it’s side. still sliding as I was amazed to watch the concrete road come up and meet me through the broken window,


I wasn’t hurt much, except for the battery that came out of the floor and hit me on the head. (it was an old “International P.U. and they put the battery under the floor boards).


I hit no one, and cars were coming to halt. I climbed out and started throwing 20 foot 2X6’s off the road so cars could go past. It was great fun. Everyone helped and one guy even helped by taking some boards home!


The next thing I knew, one of the helpers was Sheriff Tim McCoulagh. (sp ?) He was the King County Sheriff at the time. My Dad had built him a home just one year before!


After we got the road cleared and the tow truck grabbed the beat up P.U., the Sheriff drove me back to the office of Fiver Corners Lumber Company. As we walked in, Milt Topping and my Dad were waiting for us. We exchanged pleasantries, Milt poured a shot of whiskey for the Sheriff, and that was that!


About a half hour later, when the Sheriff went back to work, he had a final word for all of us: “By the way Milt, you probably should not let Bob deliver any more lumber until he has his driver’s license.”  (true story)



From Mary Wilson 

Bob was a straight shooter. He was honest and generous with his advice and support. He followed  through on promises with action. He, like me, had opinions about issues, people, and music. I appreciated our discussions and I almost always agreed with him. I knew I could count on him. I respected Bob.

I met Bob in the mid 70s during the vibrant era of the Seattle Song Circle. At least once a week, our dynamic and highly skilled group would gather to share songs. His love of music was genuine. He approached it for its essence, not as a vehicle for self aggrandizement. He shared his knowledge of the music and history freely and without ego.He was a steady guide in the vicistudes of the folk song world.