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Guitars fighting cancer

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 10 2004 10:03 a.m. MDT

Musicians spanning generations and genres think that curing cancer would rock. So they've banded together for the kind of fund-raising effort only they could pull off.

Next week, the Huntsman Cancer Institute's Celebration of Hope Golf Classic and Gala will culminate with the auction of guitars that belonged to and were signed by some of the biggest names in music: Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and more.

And some institute supporters who figured it would be a shame to break up the collection have pledged to buy them all and put the collection on tour to benefit centers that treat children nationwide who have cancer.

The gathering of guitars was the brainchild of legendary rocker Alice Cooper, who became a friend of the cancer institute after a buddy of his, Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson, was treated there. Cooper started supporting the institute's fund-raisers and has golfed in the annual tournament for several years. This year, he and two pals, manager Shep Gordon and promoter Danny Zelisko, wanted to do more than just show up.

"I don't know anybody who doesn't have somebody with cancer, and we all sit around wondering if we're going to get it," Cooper said. "It's like a plague over your head.

"Everybody can do something. This is something I can do. How hard is it to sign your name? It's not a hard sell."

They started gathering the guitars, snagging one each from Clapton, Nelson, Young, Jimmy Buffett, Blink 182, Peter Frampton, Faith Hill, Kid Rock, Little Steven, STYX, The Dead, the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Sammy Hagar, Toby Keith, Kiss, Mike Myers, Sarah McLachlan, John Mayer, No Doubt, James Taylor, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Maroon 5. And they're promising "some last-minute surprises," Cooper said in a telephone interview Friday with the Deseret Morning News.

Cooper said Zelisko has been going backstage getting artists to sign the guitars for him. "Nine out of ten will sign. Most rockers will sign for charity."

In fact, more guitars were coming in, said Linda Aagard, institute spokeswoman, who wasn't sure what the final tally would be.

Cooper said they may have to get another 50 guitars for the project. "It's not that hard to do."

Over the next year, the guitars will hit the road to benefit other cancer centers, said Dr. Stephen Prescott, executive director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The details are still being worked out, but the dream is good news for cancer research funding. They hope to send the entire collection to different cancer centers, along with another signed guitar from a famous musician, which that center can sell to raise money for itself. When they hit towns where one of the donating artists is performing or living, they also hope to get that artist to visit the kids or take part in the event, Prescott said.

The Salt Lake institute is part of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, made up of elite cancer centers nationwide. The preliminary plan calls for the guitars to visit the centers in that network over the next 12 months, with the option of extending the tour another year if it proves popular.

Members of the group that pledged to buy the collection will divide up the guitars when the tour's done or otherwise decide what to do with the collection.

And if you feel left out because you're not part of that group and you have a terrible hankering for one of the guitars, cheer up. At the auction, among the many items up for bid are two spots in that sponsorship group. The winners will have as much say about what happens to the guitars as anyone else.

The golf tournament is booked up, but there are still a few tables available for the gala. For information, call 801-581-8014.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com

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