The body of Aaron Bolton, 36, a prominent Montana nightclub owner and musician, was pulled from Elliott Bay on Monday morning.

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A prominent Montana nightclub owner and musician was found dead in Elliott Bay on Monday morning.

Aaron Bolton, 36, had been in Seattle with his stepbrother picking up new speakers for Badlander, the Missoula nightclub he co-owned, according to Seattle musician Ron Lewis. How he ended up in the water off Pier 57 is unknown.

Seattle police and fire crews were dispatched to the 1300 block of Alaskan Way around 6 a.m. for reports of a body in the water. Although early reports indicated the man had been wearing a lifejacket, police spokesman Mark Jamieson said he was not.

“It appears to be an accident,” Jamieson said of the death.

On Tuesday, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office identified Bolton as the man pulled from Elliott Bay. The cause of death was ruled drowning, but investigators have not determined whether it was an accident, a homicide or a suicide.

His mother, Joy Eiland, told The Seattle Times she doesn’t know what led to her son’s death.

“The water is very, very dear to him. His maternal grandparents live in Pensacola, Fla., and we spent almost every summer there,” said Eiland, who lives in New Mexico. “He liked to swim with the dolphins. I knew he had a real affinity for the saltwater and saltwater creatures.”

Eiland said her son was a truly talented musician and “a dear, gentle, soul.”

“My heart is just broken,” Eiland said by phone.

Bolton was born in New Orleans but grew up in Missoula after his father was hired as a professor in the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of Montana, Eiland said. Bolton briefly attended the University of Montana, but he wanted to be a musician.

He moved to Seattle when in his 20s, and played and toured with the band Mines. He worked as a bike courier and briefly at Microsoft, Eiland said.

According to the Missoulian newspaper, Bolton purchased the Badlander, a large music complex, with three friends in 2007 and transformed the venue into the center of Missoula’s music scene.

“It was the Crocodile meets Neumos,” Lewis said, comparing the nightclub to two of Seattle’s best-known music venues. “He had a serious hand on putting that on the map in Missoula. He was a big player in the promoting field.”

Lewis, a longtime musician who plays with the band the Fruit Bats and formerly played with The Shins, said that he had played several times at Badlander and was always impressed with the venue. He said Bolton also was a partner at EarCandy Music, an independent record store in Missoula.

“He was a musician, a promoter and a lifelong music enthusiast,” Lewis said. “He was an incredible drummer.”

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf and news assistant Jeff Albertson contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.