Forbis’ ‘Southern Heart’ poem sparks fond memories of Southern rock’s roots

By Don Coble
Posted 9/23/20

CLAY COUNTY – Dennis Forbis remembers seeing a group of long-haired boys in a local band from his Westside neighborhood when he was in junior high.Nearly 50 years later, Forbis still embraces …

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Forbis’ ‘Southern Heart’ poem sparks fond memories of Southern rock’s roots


CLAY COUNTY – Dennis Forbis remembers seeing a group of long-haired boys in a local band from his Westside neighborhood when he was in junior high.

Nearly 50 years later, Forbis still embraces that music that has evolved into one of the most-significant genres.

Forbis grew up in the Westside of Jacksonville, the same shanty part of the city that spawned Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special and Molly Hatchet.

“I love the music,” Forbis said. “I remember the first time I saw the band [Lynyrd Skynyrd] when I was in junior high. I never forgot that.”

Forbis, who moved to Denver 40 years ago, still feels the connection with the swampy sounds of his past. In fact, he put that passion into words with his poem, “Southern Heart (A Tribute to a Simple Man).”

The 860-word poem took five months to write. It weaves the titles of the band’s most-memorable songs, as well as the work of the Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Bob Marley and Otis Redding.

“The poem is about a lot of young stars who were gone long before their times,” he said. “I cherish my Southern roots. Not everybody understands what goes on in my head. Sometimes I don’t either.”

Forbis was inspired to put his thoughts on paper after reading Gene Odom’s “Lynyrd Skynyrd: Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock.” Odom was one of band founders and front man Ronnie Van Zant’s best friends and was part of the band’s security when three members of the band, including Van Zant, were killed in a 1977 plane crash in Mississippi.

The more I read the book, the more I wanted to write down my thoughts.

“I go the book for Christmas,” Forbis said. “I’ve written some poems, essays and short stories in the past. My mind is always thinking. Reading that book brought back a lot of memories.

“It just all came together.”

Forbis finished the poem 18 months ago. He had it copyrighted, but is willing to share it with everyone. He has a brother in Green Cove Springs and another brother in Middleburg, so he remains grounded to his Southern heritage.

“I hope everyone likes Southern Heart,” Forbis said. “I plan to keep writing I’m always looking for my next project.”

Southern Heart

(Tribute to “A Simple Man”

A bona-fide Southerner by birth,

Long reclaimed by Mother Earth.

Deprived of his chance to live a full life,

Leaving behind two daughters and a wife.

He bid farewell to Brickyard Road one last time,

For his Lord called him home, while still in his prime.

No more tears will he shed or weep,

Only “Sweet Dreams” for his eternal sleep.

Brother, son, father, husband and friend,

Such a shock . . . by his tragic end.

He was certainly never a “Ramblin’ Man”

But “A Simple Man” with a complex plan.

The music, “Photographs and Memories” remain.

It’s what we cherish to help ease our pain.

A “Street Survivor”, but now far “Beyond The Sea”,

He now be “Jammin’” with the best, for all eternity.

His legacy survives to this day,

Defines his life in every way.

Tho' many years have gone by,

It's still enough to make one cry.

No need to fret or shed a tear,

As many swear, he's still here.

Living on, in our hearts so dear,

It's how we choose to keep him near.

Quick with a smile, his Southern charm,

Put all at ease, without alarm.

A "Southern Man" to the core of his soul,

Was raised on country, blues and rock'n'roll.

He lived his life, as a "Free Bird",

Any other way would have seemed absurd.

An American first, but with Southern pride,

Knew where he stood, had nothing to hide.

His Southern culture is like no other,

If you're a "Rebel", you're a brother.

Though many today take our flag to task,

To rewrite history is to ignore the past.

When asked about their flag’s likely fate,

A Southerner may reply “heritage not hate”.

Rebel flags once proudly displayed on stage,

But this century's the dawning of a new age.

His ears would have heard the public outcry,

But his Southern heart wouldn't question why.

Perhaps a tear would have touched his cheek,

For he was taught the strong help the weak.

Lacy and Marion raised a family of six,

In Jax's Westside-some called the sticks.

He frequently called it "Shanty Town",

Humble beginnings would not keep him down.

This area of town was considered rough,

But that only made him mentally tough.

His father- his friend, a "Truck Drivin' Man",

His mother-the glue took care of the clan.

Their house, tho’ “Nuthin’ Fancy”- always open to all,

Be it spring or summer, winter or fall.

Their parents, by all were simply adored,

Respect and manners were never ignored.

Working hard kept food on the table,

Providing a “Second Helping” whenever able.

With sisters three and his brothers two,

Never a shortage of things to do.

They fought, they fished, and they stood tall,

Defending each other with backs to the wall.

At times they were known to raise some hell,

Just normal Southern boys, as one could tell.

He watched stock car racing-Jax Speedway,

The track is gone as memories fade away.

He could have fished all day, any day,

Be it Cedar River or from the “Dock Of The Bay.”

A singer, a leader, a writer, an athlete too,

Never quite sure what he wanted to do.

Boxing, racing, music-Which to choose?

Natural born rock star, he found his muse!

He formed a band with four friends in 64’.

Over the next few years they added more.

At first guitarists and drummer to name a few,

Later on, a pianist/keyboardist and backup singers too. (The Honkettes)

Woodstock, Comic Book Club, Good Shepherd Church- local venues,

Allowed them to perfect their sound while paying their dues.

My Backyard, The Noble Five, One Percent- “What's your name”?

Needed something catchy to propel them to fame.

Down the halls of Lee, they wore their hair long,

Yet sent to the man; they'd done nothing wrong.

Because of that crusty old gym teacher named Skinner,

They revamped his name and came up with a winner.

Thus, Lynyrd Skynyrd became their chosen name,

Southern blues-rock was never the same.

Three guitar army-their unique signature sound,

Sent sweet vibrations from the stage to the ground.

Landing a contract- “Workin’ For MCA”,

Years of hard work began to pay.

“Sweet Home Alabama” barely out of his mouth,

Fast became an unofficial anthem of the South.

A song Neil Young will always remember,

Blown away like a breeze in September.

We remember “Curtis Loew”, The Jug, and Linda Lou,

And “That Smell” of death which surrounds you.

From Hell House near Green Cove to Muscle Shoals,

Finally fulfilling his lifelong goals.

He rose steadily to the top of his game,

Acquiring friends and respect, not to mention fame.

Through it all, he stayed true to himself.

It was always the music, never the wealth.

Away from the limelight, please understand,

He always remained "A Simple Man".

Up in the heavens, past the sun and the moon,

This rising musical star left us much too soon.

The music fades, the lights go low,

Our precious brother deserved one last show.

Ronnie now resides with the one, who gave him life,

Forever removed from pain and strife.

"Tuesday's Gone" with the wind,

And sadly so, is our dear friend.

Rest in Eternal Peace R.V.Z.-Steve and Cassie

Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2006

Written by Dennis Forbis (3/2019)-a fan, a music lover, a fellow Southerner, a 1975 N.B. Forrest High graduate, and a former Westside resident. Inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd-Remembering The Free Birds Of Southern Rock by Gene Odom with Frank Dorman.


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