Bobby Lord Knows Secrets to Success

Ike Crumpler - - April 19, 2004

           From his kitchen table, Bobby Lord gazed through a sliding glass door and out at the St. Lucie River. Meditating on the spring of his love affair with music, he recalled childhood road trips and sing-alongs with radio stars of the day. Then, his smiling eyes faded into a faraway look.
           "I was just sitting here thinking," said Lord, 70, "how many people will not know Hank Williams or Earnest Tubbs?" Some might not know Bobby Lord, but they'd likely remember his golden voice.
           In a singing career spanning the '50s, '60s and early '70s, Lord wrote and performed chart-topping hits, hobnobbed with the hottest talents and hosted shows at the Grand Ole Opry.
           The spotlight dimmed all too soon, but not because Lord lost it to cards, booze or women. He gambled his career in show business on making it in the business world. Nashville's loss was the Treasure Coast's gain, as he achieved great accomplishments in sales, developing and insurance.
           In 1969, Bobby Lord started Nettles Island, then 50 acres, in St. Lucie County just north of Jensen Beach, FL. "A lot of people say performing is in your blood," Lord said. "You stay with it until you starve to death if you're a real performer. I wanted to be a success at something."
           Born in Sanford and raised in Tampa, Lord's singing and guitar playing garnered him copious talent show titles, first at Plant High School, then on radio and TV. Even he didn't think it would last, said Mozelle, his high school sweetheart and wife of 49 years.
           "He liked to sing," she said. "But he thought it was just a hobby." So did his father, who groomed his son for work in the auto shop he owned. But in 1953, Lord traded ratchets for a recording contract. At age 19 he became the youngest artist to sign with Columbia Records. Two years later, he landed a spot on the nationally televised Ozark Jubilee.
           The gig impressed a fellow up-and-coming musician. Touring Texas together, Elvis Presley asked Lord to help him get on the show. Lord passed the request on to his producer. "He said, 'No way am I putting that guy on. He's just a flash in the pan,'" Lord recalled.
           Other stars sailed in and out of the Lords' lives. A father of three, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of one, Lord hung out with Loretta Lynn, played softball with Willie Nelson and went to Jamaica with June Carter and Johnny Cash.
           Lord's son, Rob, remembers it well. "One advantage I have over my sister and brother was being the oldest," said Rob Lord, 45, chief legal officer at Martin Memorial. "When he would go on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, I was there."
           His sister, Sarah Williams, 43, of Dothan, Ala., was there, too. Sort of. "I was in my own little fantasy world," said Williams, who was 8 when the family left Nashville. "Now that I'm an adult, I wish I would have paid more attention."
           Though he performed 90 singles, Lord longed to reach the summit shared by the likes of Presley or Cash. "I told myself, if I had not reached the pinnacle of success I wanted to reach by the time I was 35, I would quit and do something else," he said. "I came to Jensen Beach and started Nettles Island."
           Buying property in Nettles Island, Orlando and the Keys, he sold campsites mainly to northerners with RVs. Meanwhile, "You and Me Against the World" scored a top five hit.
           Thinking he retired too early, Lord re-emerged to follow with "Peace of Mind." That's just what he got about his decision to give up his music career when the song made little splash.
           Plenty of splashing occurred, however, in development of Nettles Island, an undertaking today's environmental laws would render impossible. Lord presided over the island's expansion from 50 to 100 acres, which included building a 4.5-mile-long seawall and pumping in 18 million yards of muck from the Indian River Lagoon. "This is something that just will never, ever happen again in America," said Blaine Ellingson, a chiropractor on Nettles Island who wrote "Reflections of Nettles Island, Jensen Beach and Hutchinson Island."
           Plots Lord sold for $5,000 to $14,000 now fetch $55,000 to $150,000. All told, as owner of Outdoor Resorts of America, he sold $22 million worth of campsites in Texas, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina, achieving the success he sought.
           In 1980, he started Stuart Insurance, based in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Palm Beach counties. His youngest son, Cabot Lord, now runs the business, a task he warmed to years ago after his father's blunt analysis of his musical aspirations. "He said, 'You're not good enough at this. Get out and go into business,'" recalled Cabot Lord, 41, of Stuart. "And it was the truth. Best advice he ever gave me."
           Relaxing in semi-retirement since 2002, Lord listens to Randy Travis and Garth Brooks and sometimes just for a moment contemplates a comeback. "Up until a few years ago, I felt I could sing as good as I ever did," he said. "Didn't make any difference. They heard you. They've seen your act. Goodbye..."

Bobby Lord's hit singles:
"You and Me Against the World"
"Yesterday's Letters"
"They've Got Something in the Country"
"When the Snow Falls"
"Before I Lose My Mind"

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