Ben Folds Five’s debut album introduced the public to the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter’s wiles in 1995 -- but of course, Foldsheads* know that his recording career officially began in 1988 with the self-produced EP from Majosha, a band the multi-instrumentalist played bass in before breaking through. So you can imagine Danny Fonorow’s surprise when, while sifting through more than 3,000 45s he purchased, he came across a 7” single from 1985 attributed to Ben Folds as the artist, producer and songwriter. The single’s title, “Fayetteville,” referred to a town in North Carolina that’s about a two-hour drive from where Folds grew up, further validating the connection.
“The song is not what you'd expect from Ben Folds, but you can hear the seeds of what's to come and his sense of humor is very much there,” Fonorow says of the 45 (which, he adds, “looks nearly untouched”).
The rest of the information scrawled across the 45 wasn’t entirely helpful in terms of ascertaining its authenticity -- the publisher was noted as “Flying Queef” (shockingly, not a real publishing entity) and the given record label was “Tiny Breeze Records.” If the latter sounded legitimate enough, a quick Google search (and the fact that the words ‘Tiny Breeze Records’ are depicted as coming from a hand-drawn squirrel’s fart) confirmed that was a dead-end too.
Eventually Fonorow -- who has some industry connections, having managed “the greatest band you should’ve heard of,” NC indie rockers Jonas Sees In Color -- managed to get in touch with Folds’ camp, who confirmed the authenticity of the 1985 7” and explained how this entirely forgotten rarity came into being.
When Folds was still in high school, a local teacher was attempting to kick off a country music career. The honky-tonk teach asked Folds to play all the instruments on his song, and in return, Folds would get to press a tune of his own on wax.
“I took the opportunity to make up a silly ass song about Fayetteville which I submitted to PBS Smithsonian TV show as they were doing an episode on Fayetteville and Army town culture,” Folds recalls. “I believe they used a few seconds of it -- the ‘party’ part.”
You wanna hear what that aforementioned “party” part is? Well, head on over to eBay. Fonorow is currently selling the 7” -- the earliest known Ben Folds recording -- with hopes of earning back the money he spent on those 3k 45s in the first place.
Not that he’s especially hung up on recouping the cost -- this is all in a day’s work for the longtime record enthusiast. While Danny works another job, as does his wife, his passion for vinyl perusal paid for the restoration of their house -- not too shabby as far as extracurricular activities are concerned.
“I get the biggest rush from finding music that has been lost to history -- I get to discover cultural artifacts,” he says. The Folds 45 is a case in point, but it’s hardly the only treasure he’s come across. He once landed a sealed first-pressing of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and recently found a 1969 recording of radio ads for the Fab Four’s Yellow Submarine. “It was less than four minutes long, but it sold for a surprising amount of money,” he says.
Not all the vinyl that passes through his hands hits eBay -- he has his favorites, as any vinyl freak does. “I'm a huge Prince collector, and I once got an autographed 12" ‘Purple Rain’ single from a crate-dig. The shop owner didn't look at the back before pricing it, so I paid $8.95 for a Prince autograph, which I've since had authenticated. I kept that one, obviously.”
For those with a budding interest in vinyl flipping, Foronow’s advice is fairly simple. Yes, he’s done the auction and estate sale scenes (which amounts to “fighting with other collectors,” as he puts it -- think Storage Wars), but he’s found a better route.
“Most of the folks who call me have gotten my number from another client -- word-of-mouth is the best marketing technique,” he says (think Amercian Pickers). “I get a couple of calls a week, but not all of them end in a purchase. I believe in giving people a fair price for their vinyl, which means I have lots of enthusiastic sellers.”
*Not a real thing.