As part of an anniversary celebration in 2009, Dairy Queen used a 1967 photo of Hope, Arkansas band The Zonks as part of its promotion.  The group, standing on a Dairy Queen truck outside a Dairy Queen, very much epitomized the '60's garage band "look," resulting in several questions about The Zonks: Who were they? Did they record? How did they wind up as part of a Dairy Queen promotion?  After doing a quick Google search, we landed at the MySpace page for Zonk member Buzz Andrews.  Unfortunately, several months passed without a response to the questions we had asked Buzz.  Thankfully, and out of the blue, Buzz finally responded--providing the complete story of The Zonks.
Buzz Andrews Recalls The Zonks

The beginning of The Zonks actually came about when Johnny Lowe formed the band called The Outsiders. This was back in 1966. Johnny was our bass guitar player and as I remember it he was a huge fan of storyteller Bob Dylan. Johnny was a character and was tagged with the nickname “Goose.” He was totally unpredictable and you never knew what he would do at any given time.

Alan Phillips had an uncle Winfred who was an accomplished guitarist, who I believe taught Alan how to play the guitar early on. So, Alan was our rhythm guitar player in the band and did most of the singing. Alan was quite the athlete and thus had the nickname “Champ.” Alan was one of the most likable kids in the world and never rubbed anyone wrong.

We heard about a preacher’s son that was pretty wild who played the drums so we called him one day and he agreed to try us out to see if we were any good to play with. His name was Gary Thrasher. Now Gary could play the drums and was without a doubt the best musician in our band. His nickname was “Clutch” for his fast car driving late at night. Gary is the one with his hand on his bass drum.

I got involved in the band because Alan and I were great friends. I was playing trumpet at the time and my dad got me a cheap pawn shop guitar to mess around with. Soon Alan, Johnny, and I were rehearsing at Alan’s house forming a band. This went on for about a year and we learned enough songs to perform at the local youth center in Hope, Arkansas. I started learning how to play lead on my guitar and my dad found me an electric guitar and a homemade amplifier that I used in our early gigs. I am the one with the prison pants on.

My mother got involved and bought me a Montgomery Ward guitar and amplifier that I was so proud of. We played mostly instrumentals because we were afraid to sing in front of an audience. Goose decided that he did not want to play anymore and quit the band. So I came up with the idea that Alan should play bass.

Alan’s dad, Harry, was a used car dealer and was very capable of acquiring musical equipment at a great price (after he talked the salesmen down, of course), so Alan showed up with a brand new 1967 Fender Precision Bass to play. Of course, he had a Fender Bassman amp to go with his new guitar. He couldn’t play a lick of bass so I had to teach him everything about playing the bass. Alan is the one standing in the bed of the truck holding his bass. He worked at it just like he did athletics and became an accomplished bass player. We spent hours in rehearsal together for him to get to that point. Now at this point he and I might have just been twins. We did everything together. He was my best friend. This was the beginning of The Zonks. Johnny Lowe named us before he left the band, but the name stuck. The Zonks we were.

Now the next thing we did was add a keyboard player to The Zonks. Jack Fountain had a Farfisa electric organ so he was the natural choice for the position. Jack played organ for us for around a year and struggled with playing by ear. He had to write the chord charts down in order to play, so this was a problem in dimly lit venues. We finally let Jack go after a year because of this. Jack was a trooper but he could just not play by ear and none of the rest of us knew any music—we all played by ear. I don’t remember if we had a nickname for Jack.

We replaced Jack with Mike Westbrook in 1967 on the organ. Mike could play by ear and filled out the rhythm section for us and was a good lead player as well. So this added to the sound of The Zonks. Mike is the one sitting in the Dairy Queen truck looking out the window.

Then one day at school as The Zonks were rehearsing in the high school auditorium, a cool looking guy named Mike Tolleson walked up and asked if we knew the song ‘Wild Thing.’ Well we did and he asked if he could sing it with us and after we heard him and watched his moves we hired him as our front man. As I said none of us wanted to sing so he was perfect. Mike’s nickname was “Snake.” I suppose he was a little shifty and all coming from Florida. Mike is the one laying on the bed of the truck.

So this was the way it all got started. We rehearsed in Alan’s bedroom until his mother heard the lyrics to ‘Satisfaction’ and then we had to move to my dad’s garage—later named The Zonk Room, where almost anything went. After Alan’s mother called us down, we had the Zonk Magna Carta rules for the bedroom and that pretty much throttled us so we moved to my dad’s garage. Thus we were truly a garage band then.

Ronnie Phillips, Alan’s big brother, became our booking agent and band manager. He bought our PA and lights. Ronnie loved The Beach Boys and I mean loved ‘em. It really used to piss him off that we did not want to cover their songs. We were into The Rolling Stones and patterned ourselves after them. We began to dress like them and try to act cool like them. Ronnie would work the gate and make sure everyone paid so he could get some of his money back for his investment in The Zonks. Ronnie was a pen flipper. He would listen to us for hours flipping a pen in one hand.  I never knew why.

We then needed an equipment manager so we recruited our neighbor down the street for this job. His name was Mike Russell. His nickname was “Round Dog.” He was heavy and was an offensive lineman on our high school football team. He was the greatest, a real true blue roadie. He would do anything for the band. He drove the van; he set up and tore down the equipment. He fixed broken cords during our shows. One of the most important things he did was keep our girlfriends happy. We were always messing up and he covered for us a bunch of times.

We had a makeshift light show that Round Dog worked throughout all the gigs. Unlike the modern day electronic switches, he had to manually switch each change of the lighting. I remember him wearing gloves for this and still having blisters on his thumbs at the end. One thing I remember was when we played a slow song, he would switch to all blue and take a break. Cool.

Dairy Queen

Ronnie Phillips convinced Helen Aldridge, owner of the local Dairy Queen, to let The Zonks have a concert at the DQ on one Saturday night. Well, this was in 1967 before Woodstock and outdoor festivals so this was not easy for Ronnie to arrange. Helen said yes and then suggested that we all pose on her DQ truck for advertising the event. Thus the picture that everyone admires in Dairy Queens today. Helen sent the picture to the Dairy Queen national office and that’s where it was stored away in a lost folder until 40 years later. A representative stumbled upon the old photo and took a look and decided that it should be placed in all of the new DQs in the country. So as things go today, she goggled “The Zonks” (Our band name was on the drumhead) and my name came up on my website referring to The Zonks. She called me and asked for permission to use the picture and I responded with a quick yes.

Back to 1967. Ok, the deal was done. Small town concert at the local hangout by The Zonks. Alan and I went to talk to Helen and I got the idea, or maybe it was Gary Thrasher, to not play at the DQ but on top of the DQ. Wow, she agreed so we had a cool stage so that everyone could see us. The night finally came and the crowd grew. Our DQ was on Highway 67, which was the only way to get through Hope at the time. So major traffic was a common occurrence. We started playing and the crowd kept getting larger and larger. Finally people just stopped in the highway and totally blocked the road. As you would imagine, the Arkansas State Police showed up and we thought we were done then…but no…they routed traffic around the DQ and The Zonks played on.

We looked down and kids on bicycles, scooters and motorcycles were showing up. I don’t know how many showed up but the whole city block was filled with kids. Helen loved it and sold every hamburger she could cook that night. You can’t attend a class reunion with out that night at the DQ coming up in conversation even 50 years later. Small town, garage band…big deal…

Zonks - 'Time Is On My Side' (Live)
Other Memories

The Hope Youth Center. A large two-story white building that had pool tables on the first floor and a bandstand and dance floor on the second. There were dances there all the time, mostly after football home games. The Zonks were regulars at the youth center. The place was usually packed (nothing else to do in a small town on a weekend). The place had a great jukebox filled with all the great tunes of the day. 

The Zonks went on to play other gigs around southern Arkansas mainly on college campuses for frat parties. We had a couple of notable parties that I remember some details about. One was a party at Henderson State College for the Theta SI fraternity. Ronnie Phillips, our manager, was a member of the fraternity and got The Zonks booked for the party at their frat house. We were high school juniors at the time and were in for a big surprise. The party was raided by the campus cops and when the word spread that the cops were coming all the liquor wound up on our stage. So The Zonks got banned from the campus. I don’t think any of us even drank at the time, but it sure looked like it when the cops showed up.

The other college frat party was in Hot Springs, Arkansas for a college social group called The Red Shirts from Ouachita Baptist University. We got there and they had rented a place called The Ranch House. Now we were drinking some by then and things got a little bit western at the gig. 
The place was filled with wagon wheel hanging lights over the dance floor and these wagon wheels became swings for some drunken dancers. Well it didn’t take long for a couple to be pulled right out of the roof. Then after we took a couple of breaks our bass player, Alan, got a little tipsy. Now by tipsy I mean pretty wasted. So I asked Clutch, our drummer, if I could borrow his belt and we tied Alan to a pole so he could finish the night on stage.

It got worse before it got better that night. One of our friends came along to assist in the setting up and tearing down of the equipment but he got in the same shape as Alan. So we wound up throwing him in the back of the van with the equipment. We stopped at a truck stop just outside of town to get something to eat and left him in the back of the van to sleep it off. The next thing we know we see him pulling on the front door of the restaurant; of course it was push instead of pull. So he finally got in the outer door and was standing by the newspaper rack. 
We guess he thought he was in the restroom because he took a wiz on the newspaper rack at the front door and that was our signal to get the heck out of there quick. So we did. I had to drive the van because I was the only one left that was somewhat sober at the time. We needed gas so we stopped at another truck stop about 10 miles from Hope. I was tired and it was 2:30 in the morning. You guessed it: truck stop, diesel fuel… Oh boy, I put diesel fuel in the van. Well that kept everyone up for the rest of the trip. My old man was not happy to hear that his work van was messed up.

A New Years Eve gig in a closed down Chevrolet Place with no heat in the building and the temp was 14 degrees. Round Dog was especially important that night as he had a cigarette lighter for our fingers to keep them warm...
A teen club gig in Conway, Arkansas where the oldest kid was 14. We introduced Gary, our drummer, as Rusty Frog. Just trying to be cute. During the break a kid comes up to him and asked, “Mr. Frog, can I bum a light?” We cracked up…A homecoming gig at Southern State College where Round Dog missed a turn and ran out into a cow pasture with all of our equipment. We were at the college taking heat from the school because 20 minutes before we were to start…No Round Dog and no equipment. He got there and his eyes were as big as moon pies...We were playing a show with John Fred and His Playboy Band and Gary’s drumstool got caught in a hole in the scaffeling and he literally fell off the stage while playing.

The Zonks
Where Are The Zonks Now? (December 2010)

This is what I know of the members as to where they are now:

*Johnny (Goose) Lowe is deceased now. 

*Alan (Champ) Phillips got a track scholarship to Arkansas Monticello. He joined the U.S. Navy. He died of cancer. Had me preside over his funeral and play his favorite song, 'The House of the Rising Sun' at his funeral.

*Jack Fountain worked for Paul Klipsh and Associates for a while and that’s all I know.

*Mike (Snake) Tolleson worked for Myers Bakery in Hope for a long time as an accountant.  He still lives in Hope.

*Gary (Clutch) Thrasher has worked numerous jobs around Hope and Central Arkansas; he is presently selling automobiles in Texarkana. He was in several bands after The Zonks and kept those drum beats going.

*Mike Westbrook graduated from college and became a medical doctor. He is presently performing with The Chris Cameron Band but not playing the keys. He is the bass player for that band.

*Mike (Round Dog) Russell graduated from Southern State College and has worked for Riceland Foods for almost 40 years. He presently lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

*Ralph Routon was a keyboard player for The Zonks after Mike Westbrook went to college. Ralph is in the newspaper business.

*At one time we added a horn section to our ever changing line up of musicians. They were David Ryder, Herbert Townsend, and Danny Lauterbach. We tried a little Otis Redding, etc…

*I, Buzz (Buzzard) Andrews, went to college on a track scholarship at Ouachita Baptist College. I was a school record holder there and even competed in the National Championships against the one and only Bruce Jenner. I got my Masters Degree at Henderson St. College where I was the assistant track coach.

I am on my 34th year of coaching and teaching high school. I have coached three Olympians and numerous state champions during my tenure. I also have kept the music fire burning throughout my life, mostly as a hobby with my coaching schedule and all. You can catch up with me here