On a Saturday night during the summer of 1967, five teenagers scaled the Dairy Queen in Hope, Ark.
As people began to gather below, the sound of drums and an electric guitar cut through the air, and the Zonks began to play.
“We just said, ‘Let’s play on top of that sucker. Let’s play on the roof.’ And we did,” said lead guitarist Buzz Andrews. “Did it before U2 and the Beatles.”
The Dairy Queen was on U.S. Highway 67, the town’s main thoroughfare. As word spread and curious passersby stopped to watch, the crowd overflowed the parking lot and began to spill into the street.
“We didn’t really know how much of a following we had until that,” said drummer Gary Thrasher. “It was kind of our own little Woodstock.”
Arkansas State Police soon arrived. The band, and most of the audience, assumed they would disperse the crowd and shut down the performance. Instead, they began diverting traffic down other roads.
The Zonks weren’t the first band to play atop Dairy Queen—that honor belonged to Rick Durham and the Dynamics—but that show “wasn’t much,” Thrasher said.
“It was a big deal for Hope, Ark.,” Andrews said about The Zonks.
According to Andrews, the Zonks were formed about 1965 as the Offbeats, a name they kept until a band member pointed out that they were on beat and shouldn’t advertise otherwise.
They settled on The Zonks, which, all agreed, was “very original, very cool,” Andrews said.
The band shifted over time, growing from a trio to a quintet, and adding new members as others lost interest or moved away. For a brief period before its dissolution, the band added a horn section.
The longest incarnation was the group that played atop Dairy Queen.
Alongside Andrews and Thrasher were bassist Alan Phillips—whose elder brother Ronnie was the band’s manager and promoter; keyboardist Mike Westbrook; and vocalist Mike Tolleson, a charismatic Florida transplant with strong stage presence, on vocals.
The Zonks wasn’t quite what Thrasher had in mind when he moved to Hope from Prescott. He had hoped to form a jazz trio, but it was the time of the British Invasion, and rock ’n’ roll was in the air.
The band practiced at first in Alan Phillips’ bedroom, until they played the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” within earshot of his mother.
“She’s Church of Christ,” Andrews said. “We were no longer allowed in her home.”
They moved to Andrews’ garage to get out of reach of prying ears. They rechristened it the Zonk Room.
The Zonks made something of a name for themselves in southwestern Arkansas during the late 1960s. They began playing carports and pool parties in Hope. Eventually, there were regular gigs at Hope Youth Center alongside bands with names like the Uniques, the Mouse in the Traps, the Morticians and Squirrel Fever.
“It seems like we won second place in the poultry festival battle of the bands,” Andrews said. “That sort of launched our musical careers.”
When friends and siblings went off to college, The Zonks started to get gigs at parties at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia and Southern State (now Southern Arkansas) University in Magnolia.
They played at the grand opening of the Dairy Queen on East Street in Texarkana, Ark., and at an Arkansas High School homecoming. But the rooftop concert was the highlight.
The quintet reveled in their relative fame. Andrews, who was also starting quarterback and Mr. Hope High School, remembers the band being greeted by shouts of recognition as members walked through downtown Hope.
But fame was not quite enough to hold the band together. The Zonks, though they mostly wound up in Arkadelphia for college, dissolved after high school. They played at a couple of Hope High School reunions, but otherwise have pursued their own paths.
“I guess we weren’t really dedicated to the band, because we didn’t drop out of school and become rock stars,” Andrews said.
The rooftop show at Dairy Queen would have marked the peak of The Zonks’ fame had someone in the company’s corporate office not happened upon a promotional photo for the show.
In the photo, the five band members are posed casually with their instruments on a vintage white truck covered with the DQ logo and parked in front of the restaurant. They look confidently at the camera.
Something about the photo seems to capture the spirit of the era, said Dairy Queen spokesman Dean Peters.
The company obtained the rights for the photo and used it in promotional materials for its 50th anniversary in 1990. More recently, it began hanging the photo in Dairy Queen restaurants across the country.
“Nostalgia plays an awful large part of who Dairy Queen was and is,” Peters said. “We thought our customers would enjoy it.”
Unbeknownst to band members, the photo, 40 years after it was taken, was sparking a renewed interest in The Zonks.
“I got an email from my brother saying, ‘Hey, I saw The Zonks on TV last night,’” Thrasher said, referring to the photo’s appearance on a Food Network program.
The reappearance of the photo and the interest it generated was news to Thrasher, as it was to Andrews.
“We had let it go,” Andrews said. “We had moved on.”
Andrews, a high school track coach and blues guitarist in Dallas, now receives regular emails from curious Dairy Queen patrons who see the photo, Google Zonks and find Andrews’ Facebook page.
“I now have two sets of followers. I have my Zonks followers, and I have my blues followers,” he said.
The photo even inspired a self-published novel, available on Amazon, about a fictional Zonks reunion.
A real-life reunion, however, is unlikely. Alan Phillips died several years ago. Though Andrews is returning to his hometown to headline this weekend’s balloon festival, the rest of the band are firmly entrenched in their own lives, he said.
Hope no longer boasts a Dairy Queen, but the flat-roofed building on which The Zonks played 44 years ago still stands on Highway 67, just in case they change their minds on the reunion.