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Legislators, lobbyists rock for wounded warriors

Band 'Spank the Dog' plays at Hangar Ballroom

Posted: February 27, 2013 - 10:47pm  |  Updated: February 28, 2013 - 1:19am
Spank the Dog, with Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, left, Paul Fuhs, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and John Bitney jam during fundraiser for veterans Wednesday at the Hangar Ballroom. University of Alaska President Pat Gamble also played electic guitar with the group.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Spank the Dog, with Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, left, Paul Fuhs, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and John Bitney jam during fundraiser for veterans Wednesday at the Hangar Ballroom. University of Alaska President Pat Gamble also played electic guitar with the group.

The Hangar Ballroom filled up Wednesday night as a classic rock cover band put on a show to benefit wounded warriors returning from overseas.

But what made the benefit somewhat unique was just who was on stage.

The band, Spank the Dog, is a casual collaboration between a motley cast of legislators, lobbyists and other music enthusiasts who find themselves in Juneau during the legislative session. Wednesday night gave attendees a chance to see them trade in suits and ties for Hawaiian shirts and other casual attire, and put down their sponsor statements and fact sheets to pick up electric guitars and drumsticks.

Cordova lobbyist John Bitney said he and fellow lobbyist Paul Fuhs began playing together more than 15 years ago.

“We’re sort of the Spank the Dog core,” said Bitney, who estimated the band has gone through about 30 different iterations over the years. He compared Spank the Dog to the titular band from rock mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” for its frequent rotation of drummers.

On drums Wednesday was Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks.

Kelly said he plays with Spank the Dog “on a very informal basis.”

The band was joined by “special guest” Patrick Gamble, president of the University of Alaska and a retired United States Air Force general, on guitar Wednesday.

“I learned he played guitar, and I just thought how great it would be to play with a four-star general,” Kelly said. “I mean, you don’t get to put that on many résumés.”

“The cause, of course, being the wounded veterans, wounded warriors cause, that even makes it more special,” said Gamble. “So I’m happy to do it. First time I’ve stood on stage with a rock and roll band in over 40 years, though.”

Gamble said he was invited to join Spank the Dog for the event. He said he played guitar in high school and college, but “hadn’t played since.” Before the band took the stage, he admitted he had yet to practice with the group, but he praised the band members’ musical skills.

“These guys play together, and they’ve got some real talent,” Gamble said. “So it’s a privilege to join them, and it’s a good cause, so I hope everybody has a good time.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Bitney of the band, which also counts Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, among its members.

Bitney said some people “misunderstand” Spank the Dog’s bringing together of public officials and lobbyists.

“We’re friends, and that’s work, and this is just fun,” Bitney said.

The event in downtown Juneau Wednesday was a silent auction fundraiser to provide military servicemembers and veterans injured in combat with parent-and-child hunting and fishing trips, a way to allow them to reunite with a child.

Items auctioned off included lunch with Kelly and his fellow Senate Finance Committee co-chairman, Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer; a Caribbean cruise; a bear hunting expedition; a railroad trip between Anchorage and Seward; and a shotgun.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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