Michael Bluejay's guide to

I made this logo as a gift for the band. It reads the same upside-down as rightside up.
I was proud that when I gave it to Robert at a show in Apr. 1997, he remarked, "That's fucked up!"
Contact  |  BF5 home  |  Michael Bluejay home

Last update: September 26, 2012

This site was selected as the MacroMusic
Noteworthy Site of the day on Feb. 12, 1999.

Ben Folds Five news

Sept. 2012.  The newly-reunited Ben Folds Five releases a new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and launches their first tour in over a decade.  The Magical Armchair has the tour dates.

Stuff on this site

Ben Folds Five FAQ

MP3 of me sitting in with BF5 on "Best Imitation of Myself"

• Order albums and sheet music

Chord charts for some songs

• My lousy MIDI recording of Best Imitation

Similarities between BF5 songs and other songs

• A Who's Who Guide to Ben Folds Five

Interviews with the band from the 1990s

• BF5 Haikus

• Picture of my BF5 tattoo

• The piano market (piano stocks)

• BF5's shows in Austin

• SXSW 1996 concert photos

Other sites

The band's official site

Magical Armchair (well-known fansite)

Wikipedia article about the band

Lyrics at BestLyrics.com

Misheard lyrics

Ragogna interview, Oct. 2012. Excellent interview with Ben; touches on some technical aspects of the music as well as the meaning behind some of the lyrics.

BF5 All Together Now. Japanese fan site, in English & Japanese.  Doesn't seem to have been updated since 2000, but has some cool GIF animations of the band.

The Strangest Thing.  This large fansite died in 2002, but here's the archive.

1997 interview

Hotel Lights.  Darren Jessee's critically-acclaimed other band

ChuckFolds.com.  Ben's brother's site about his own music

Phil's Finest Hour was an Australian band with a BF5-like sound.  Unfortunately they seemed to have disappeared, and I can't find any recordings of them listed anywhere.

Ben Folds Five timeline

1966. Ben born on Sept. 12.

Mid-1980s.  If the song "Army" is truly autobiographical, Ben works at Chik-Fil-A, contemplates joining the army, and plays in an unsuccessful band.

~1987-90.  Ben forms Majosha with Millard Powers.  Band wins a "Battle of the Bands" contest.

1994. Band forms in Chapel Hill, NC, with Folds, Darren Jessee on drums, and Robert Sledge on bass guitar.

1995. Debut eponymous album on Caroline Records. "Underground" is a semi-hit single.

1996. The band gets a large following in Japan, courtesy of a Japanese TV drama in which one of the characters is a big fan, but gets a lot less attention the U.S.

1997. Second album, Whatever and Ever Amen. The single "Brick" launches the band to stardom, and "Song for the Dumped" and "Battle of Who Could Care Less" hits the Top 25.

1998. Ben releases his first solo album, Fear of Pop, though Ben Folds Five is still going strong.

1999. Third album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. "Army" charts in the Top 20.

2000.  The band breaks up amicably in October.  The bandmembers' projects post-breakup aren't detailed here; instead see the Wikipedia articles about Ben, Darren, and Robert.)

2005. A remastered and expanded edition of Whatever and Ever Amen is released, including seven new bonus tracks.

2008. The band reunites for a single show in Chapel Hill. (NME)

2011. The band reunites to record three new songs for the compilation album The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.

2012. The band releases their fourth studio album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and begins their first tour in over a decade.

(click to show animation again)
This animation is courtesy of the Japanese site BF5-All Together Now (used by permission).
Ben Folds Five burst onto the mid-90s alt-rock scene with a gimmick:  They were a rock band without a guitarist.  But they were more than a gimmick:  On the piano, Ben Folds played circles around every pop-piano player that had come before, and the songs...the songs!  Catchy tunes, with ultra-heartfelt lyrics.  Except when they were being smartasses with songs like a hysterical screed against an ex-girlfriend.  And despite their musicianship, they did bring an attitude, evidenced by the beating that Ben would routinely give his piano during shows.  Ben said the band was "Punk rock for sissies."

After three successful albums, the band broke up in 2000.  All three members pursued other projects, none more successfully than Ben, who did well as a solo artist and a judge on a reality TV show.  They reunited for a one-off show in 2008, then in 2011 got back together to record a new album, which was released in 2012.  At that time they started touring again.

I'd stumbled across their tape in 1995 and was immediately hooked.  I went to their show when they came to town, and it was pretty easy to hang out with them because this was still a couple of years before they'd hit it big.  The show cost $5 for three bands.  When they came back to town for SXSW in 1996, I asked Ben to autograph my Roland keyboard that I used with my own band, with an engraver I brought.  Shortly thereafter I wanted a piano tattoo and I chose the logo from their first album.  When they came back to town in 1997 I showed them, and I wonder whether they were a bit freaked out that I was some obsessive fan or something.

I'd always bugged Ben to let me play a song with them, but he politely demurred, not saying yes and not saying no.  Then in 1998 at a show in Dallas, before they came out I stuck a note on Ben's piano that said, "Ben, let me play Best Imitation with you! ŚMichael Bluejay".  They came out and started playing, Ben saw the note, and crooked his head to read it, then looked out into the audience, and I waved from the second row.  I didn't know whether that was going anywhere, but then midway through the show he got up from the piano and talked to the other guys in the band, then went back to the piano, called me up onto the stage, gave me a big introduction, and sang the song from center stage while I played piano.  It was the experience of a lifetime.  They kindly sent me a tape of the performance afterward.  (Hear the mp3.)  I figured that the reason the band gave me the opportunity was that they were just really, really nice guys, or else they figured that since I had their logo permanently inked onto my body that they might as well let me do a song.

After that, I got lots of emails from other fans asking how they could play with the band too?  And I thought, oh no, I've spawned this horde of fans who are going to be forever bugging the band about playing with them.  I didn't want the band to regret their decision to let me play with them, but if I advised all the people who wanted to try to just leave the band alone, that would seem pretty selfish of me, like, "I had the experience, but you shouldn't even try!"

And interestingly, the bad did let at least one other fan sit in on a song at a later show.  That fan played One Angry Dwarf...expertly, much better than I could have done on a difficult song.  But for me, I'm still happy that I got to play with one of my favorite bands.  It's the ultimate dream for any fan.

Years later I would attend Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, where I got to play with the likes of Roger Daltrey (The Who), Alan White (Yes, John Lennon), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Michael Anthony (Van Halen), and others.  But that was a pay-to-play deal, and it mostly happened in private studios.  It was awesome to meet and play with those mega-rockstars, but playing with BF5 at a live show was special in a very different way.

Ben Folds Five studio albums
1st album
(July 25, 1995)
2nd album
(Mar. 18, 1997)
3rd album
(Apr. 27, 1999)
4th album
(Sep. 18, 2012)

Compilation albums

Naked Baby Photos
(Jan. 13, 1998)
live tracks, alternate versions, obscure covers
The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective
(Oct. 11, 2011)

Sheet Music

Keyboard Signature Licks

Sheet Music

Order for $23.

Expertly written note-for-note sheet music for selected songs from all four BF5 albums, plus commentary, interviews with Ben about the songs, and a practice CD!  Read my review.

Whatever & Ever Amen

Sheet Music

Order for $20

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

Sheet Music

Order for $20.

Naked Baby Photos. This is a collection of live & alternate versions and some covers. This is a good source for songs from the first album since the sheet music for the debut album is long out of print. Order for $20.