Photo by Mark Kurtzner
Henry McFerran had a dream to play heavy metal, and that he did.
For years, Henry and his brother Sean spent Makin’ Metal together with their band, China White, setting the tone for the local scene. This Saturday, Nov. 9, the scene will come back together to remember Henry and Sean at Chrome Food and Spirits in Waterford.
For $29.98, and a few dollars to cover shipping and handling, one can buy a used copy of “The Metaluna Syndrome.” The record was originally produced by MCE Records in Schenectady in 1987. It’s a compilation of Albany’s past music scene. China White’s “Makin Metal” is the third track on the record, following a song from Joey Belladano’s Triffid.
“The thing about China White that was so different was that they had a military dad who did not like the music,” said Holly Stah. Stah did just witness the heavy metal scene from working at Saratoga Winners, she was Henry and Sean’s friend. Their father, who served in the Vietnam War as a high ranking officer, was not keen of Henry’s dream. The clothes. The long hair. The noise. “But, he saw he had two, talented kids,” she said, “and he supported them.” Stah said he attended the shows, managed the band, and helped with the merchandise.
China White defined the local metal scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Metroland named it the best metal band in the area in several of its annual Best Of editions. Paul Rukwid, the band’s lead singer, said Greg Haymes played an additional role in the band’s fate. In one of his reviews, under his pen name SargeBlotto, he bemoaned Henry for trying to do too much. He recognized his talent playing guitar, but suggested someone else try singing. And, that’s when Rukwid stepped in.
Rukwid was with the band long before he started singing. The string
of events that started his journey as a frontman began with an air guitar contest put on by a local radio station. He did his thing, won the contest, and earned himself a real guitar. He met Henry at the music store the day he claimed his prize. That lead to Rukwid following the band. One night he offered to help carry the amps back out after a show. That helped him earn a job as a roadie. He’d attend practices. He was one of the guys. He would become the band manager before he’d become the lead singer, “Makin’ Metal” with Henry on one side, and Sean on the other.
“We just had fun,” said Rukwid. “I wanted to quit my day job, but that never happened … We had fun doing it.”
When Henry died in September, most people learned through an elegant social media post penned by lifelong friend, Scotty Mac. The eulogy to his friend was accompanied by a picture of Henry pinning himself against a Marshall amp with his favorite guitar — a white, Flying V — pressed to his neck. What followed was a steady stream of memories shared by friends, fans and students who took guitar lessons from him at Adirondack Strings.
“Because he was a guitar player and understood my frustrations he could relate to me and give me practical advice,” stated Mac. “He had many great guitars, the kind guitar players drool over. And let me play all of them, any of them, whenever I wanted to.
No guitar player does that,” stated Mac, not even me. He was so generous there isn’t enough time or space to describe it.”
Sean was generous with his time, too, said Stah. They shared a love for animals, and Sean would often watch her family’s dog while they were away.
Stah was prepared to stop putting together shows. She finished organizing three reunion shows to celebrate Saratoga Winners. Each was a success, raising money for a cause while seeing familiar faces. But, the effort to contact bands, some from across the nation, took a lot of effort.
The last one was in April, which Henry and Rukwid both attended, and Rukwid had a secret.
“Nobody knew they were going to go up and do a song,” said Stah.
Rukwid walked on stage with members of Maxx Thrust, whose drummer also played for China White. He said he wasn’t sure he’d go on with the plan. He couldn’t stand the thought of being on stage without being flanked by Sean and Henry. The two, however, were able to coax Henry onto the stage.
Stah said Henry was ill, and described him wearing “many layers of clothing” to hide how much weight he had lost. But, she said, “I think that gave Henry the courage to go up there and do a show.” They played one song, “Makin’ Metal.”
“It was unbelievable,” said Stah.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.