TORONTO -- Sound engineer Mark Howard spent his recording career bringing out the best in legendary musicians -- like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, U2 and Neil Young -- but as he battles an aggressive skin cancer, he's leaning on friends in the music community to deliver a star-studded benefit concert on Saturday.
The Canadian producer will gather a roster of performers, including Sarah McLachlan, Randy Bachman, Sam Roberts, Ian Thornley and Sass Jordan, at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall for an evening of entertainment dedicated to a good cause. Tickets are running from $50 to $150.
Howard, 54, says money raised will go towards the immunotherapy program at Princess Margaret Hospital where he's receiving treatment. He hopes the event will educate concertgoers on the dangers of melanoma.
"I thought I would put together a little concert to bring awareness of this disease to people," he said in an interview.
"This is not just a silly little cancer, it's a vicious cancer."
Howard spent his youth in Hamilton where he got a job as an assistant at the city's fabled Grant Avenue Studio. That's when he met Grammy-winning producer Daniel Lanois, known for his collaborations with U2 and Willie Nelson.
The two became fast friends with Lanois inviting the 21-year-old to join him in New Orleans where he was producing an album with the Neville Brothers. The experience was instantly fruitful to Howard's career.
"I went from that record right into a Bob Dylan record called 'Oh Mercy,"' he said.
The jobs kept coming after that -- he worked on R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People," Peter Gabriel's "Us" and U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Howard grabbed a producer nomination at the Juno Awards for the Tragically Hip's 1994 album "Day for Night."
All together, he counts working on more than 50 records from artists that include Tom Waits, k.d. lang and Emmylou Harris.
But his career came to a halt nearly two years ago while he was on vacation with his daughter. She pointed out what appeared to be an enlarged mole on his shoulder and urged him to seek treatment.
His dermatologist removed the black spot but Howard says within three weeks it had grown "into a tumour the size of a grapefruit" and was identified as late-stage melanoma.
"I've never worn sunscreen my whole life," he said. "And I've been in a lot of sunny spots and gotten sunburns and not really treated it."
The disease spread to other parts of his body, affecting his liver, spleen and eventually reaching his lungs and brain.
Howard says the cancer is gone from his liver and spleen after receiving immunotherapy at Princess Margaret, but he will continue treatment for remnants in his brain. In the meantime, he's been organizing the benefit concert to help fund future research.
The idea took shape when conversations with a friend led them to phone up their connections in the music industry.
Montreal producer Pierre Marchand was one of the first to respond, suggesting that McLachlan might be interested. Once the "Building a Mystery" singer was on board the pieces for a bigger concert started falling into place.
Howard promises a couple special guests throughout the night who can't be listed on the bill due to contractual obligations with other venues.
"There's a lot of people I wanted, and they really wanted to come, but they're on tour and they can't make it," he said.
Some of those voices, who include Iggy Pop, Emmylou Harris and members of the Tragically Hip, have recorded video messages for Saturday's show in their absence.