James Aumann was doing his usual tax-collecting work as Warren County Treasurer late last year when he received an email about a secret from his long-ago past.
It was from Darren Blase, co-owner of Northside’s Shake It Records store. He wanted to know if the county treasurer was the same James Aumann who once led an obscure and short-lived local rock group called Jade.
The band had issued one album in 1971, Faces of Jade, on a small Cincinnati label called General American Records. It appears to have been barely released.
“I called him and said, ‘Darren, this is Jim Aumann. I give up – you found me,’” Aumann recalled recently.
Blase wasn’t threatening to embarrass Aumann, a Republican who, in 2012, was elected unopposed to his third term. Instead, he was interested in reissuing the vinyl album on his Shake It record label because he liked it so much.
“I was really pretty astounded,” said Aumann, 65. “Obviously back when we did this record, we were hoping for big things. I was hoping to make a living from this. When it didn’t happen, it was seriously disappointing.”
Aumann had quit Miami University to pursue Jade at the time. When that failed, he went into banking – getting a degree in finance from American Institute of Banking and rising to become vice president of Warren County’s old Community National Bank. Fifteen years ago, he was hired to be the county’s chief deputy treasurer and he then moved up.
On Friday, Shake It will debut its vinyl reissue of Faces of Jade, with original album-cover art. It will be for sale at the store to launch Black Friday, the kick-off for the Christmas shopping season. There is a new 500-copy pressing (on green vinyl, with download code included). It will also be available via Shake It’s website, http://www.shakeitrecords.com, starting on Dec. 2.
Blase believes that Faces of Jade holds up well as an example of the way a regional American band was inspired by the sophisticated, boundary-breaking rock and pop of the Beatles. Its 10 songs are artistically ambitious. Aumann and the band used the studio to create songs with ambitiously ornate instrumental and vocal arrangements, innovative recording techniques, and substantial melodies. In short, it wasn’t just garage rock. Parts of songs like “Prelude Willow’s End” and “My Mary (More Than Ever)” fit well into the psychedelic-rock genre of the time; other passages are more folk-pop.
“It’s such an odd record for Cincinnati,” said the 46-year-old Blase. “Nothing here was ever on my radar that’s this overtly Beatles-influenced a kind of sound.
“On top of that, I found my copy of that Jade record at Mole’s (a used record on Short Vine), probably in 1985,” he said. “I would buy everything that had a Cincinnati address on it. I had no expectations of what it was – it looked kind of hippieish. It still had its 99-cents price sticker.”
Actually, the international audience for collectible rock had also discovered Jade. A bootleg CD of the album had appeared in Europe last decade, and music-oriented blogs like Robots for Ronnie and Tyme-Machine have praised the group.
In Jade, Aumann played keyboards and was a songwriter and singer who worked on arrangements. Other members were guitarist/songwriter/singer Randy Morse, bassist/singer Nick Root, drummer Timothy Nixon and business/songwriting partner and co-producer David Smith. The band was active from roughly 1970-1973.
Aumann believes he had a gift early for music composition. “I could write vocal parts in my head,” he said. “My dad and I used to do a lot of singing and harmonizing when I was growing up, and so did my brother and I.”
While at Mason High School, he and Smith played together in a band called the Villains. That ended with college, but Aumann continued writing at Miami University. Smith visited him from Ohio State in 1969, heard the song “Willows” and suggested recording it and several more. The two first cut the songs with studio musicians at Lockland’s Artists’ Recording Studio. But access there ended when the studio’s president died of a heart attack.
They realized they couldn’t afford to continue recording with expensive studio musicians, so they sought other band members. They decided to call themselves Jade. They found the other members from area bands and started recording at Mount Healthy’s Jewel Recording Studio. And they made contact with a record company.
Aumann thinks highly of the band members he and Smith chose. Morse turned out to be a substantial writer, himself, contributing “Well,” ”We (Got to Make It Thru)” and two other songs to the album.
Now 63, Morse went on to a career in the tech industry but has also played guitar regularly in Nashville, his home for the past 20 years.
“Though we’re not ‘rich and famous,’ we created music that has been appreciated beyond our wildest imagination, over 40 years later,” he said, via email. “A real artist is not in it for the money, though it validates our work.” (After sending this email, Morse had to go to a hospital with a minor stroke, Aumann said, adding that he is doing well.)
Nixon, 63, lives in Mason and is an ATM technician for Diebold Inc. Smith, 65, is semi-retired and lives in West Chester. Root, 61, of Fort Thomas, said in an email he has continued playing music off and on in this area. He joined Aumann and Morse for a reunion this year.
Aumann had never received money from Faces of Jade until Blase recently sent $145 for songwriting/publishing rights.
That’s a milestone, but Aumann says he is not yet ready to quit his prestigious day job to resume a music career. (He’s actually recorded some music at home.)
“As Darren said, if this does really well, we can probably all go out for a nice dinner,” he said.
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