Cincinnati’s Know Prisoners break out at Peach’s

Know Prisoners’ (l-r) Nikko Manamikko, John Burtke, Luck Spaulding, and Cal Kuhlman; photo: Chuck Loftice

By Matt Clevenger

“Reggae music is people music,” says Jonathan “Luck” Spaulding, Know Prisoners’ bassist and vocalist. “It’s feel-good music, and it’s also rebel music. It’s music for people who don’t have a voice for themselves, people who are sick of politics, or the government lying, or any kind of problems.”

Based in Cincinnati, Know Prisoners will bring their own modernized style of traditional reggae to Peach’s Grill on Friday, June 16 for a special appearance with well-known roots-rasta act Fyakey.

“It’s definitely true to the old-school reggae,” Spaulding says of Know Prisoners’ distinctive sound. “There’s kind of a nebulous area between traditional reggae from the ’70s to ’80s; it was definitely a distinct style as opposed to what came out in the ’90s, like 311 or Sublime, which is more of like a rock or jam-band type of reggae. But we definitely do more of the traditional roots, dub, and dancehall stuff, which I think sets us apart, and also makes us more authentic. A lot of die-hard reggae fans, they don’t really warm up to stuff too easily if it’s not serious, authentic rebel music, and that’s the style we do.”

Know Prisoners formed in late 2013, and was originally started by Spaulding and keyboard player Cal Kuhlman. After about a year of tryouts and lineup changes, the band added guitarist Nikko Manamikko and drummer John Bertke.

The band was ready to record and release its first album, Warrior March. Equal parts dancehall, dub, and traditional reggae, this hard-hitting debut also showcases the band’s soul, Motown, and R&B roots. They recorded the album at New Fidelity Studio in Cincinnati, with the help of producer Chris Madine of the Cliftones, a reggae band Spaulding says is “doing really big things.”

“We’re proud of [the album], it’s a really good freshman effort,” Spaulding says. “We’re already starting to record the second one, but that was just what we wanted to put out to represent Know Prisoners and give the public a taste of what we’re all about. We feel like we did a good job and Chris Madine, he did a great job producing it.”

Know Prisoners’ connections with the Cliftones go way back. In the early ’90s, Spaulding started successful Cincinnati-based reggae act the Zionites, which also included future members of the Cliftones.

Spaulding and Know Prisoners have deep connections to the Cincinnati reggae scene in general, and are known for working with other acts whenever possible. Spaulding co-wrote the title track for Warrior March with Aaron Freeman of Fyakey, and Manamikko often sits in with the band at live shows.

That positivity shows through in everything Know Prisoners does, and energizes the songs on Warrior March. Even the band’s name reflects a positive message, in a way.

“Cal is actually the one who came up with the name, and then I was like, ‘Let’s spell it K-N-O-W,’” Spaulding explains. “We’re pretty much trying to tell people—in this day of technology and madness, with smartphones and terrorism, and Trump sitting in the White House—it’s like we’re trapped in all this knowledge that we perceive as real. Many different scientists, politicians, and activists have told us throughout time the biggest prison is our own mind, so we’re trying to send the message with our band name that once you break free of your mental prison, you’re truly free.”

“That’s what the name Know Prisoners means,” Spaulding continues. “To be a prisoner of knowledge, or perceived false knowledge.”

Know Prisoners has already started recording the follow-up to Warrior March, and is also planning to release three new singles and a live album this year.

“We’re going to drop those [projects] in the fall,” he says. “One of those in particular is going to be a really hot reggae number; it’s called ‘Don’t Be Like That.’”

“We’re going to post those on our website and Facebook page,” he says. “We don’t have an actual video yet, but that’s something we’re going to do in August. That’s going to be out in the fall, too. We’re also about to record a live show of ours in July, at MOTR [Pub]  in Cincinnati, which is going to be online by August.”

Know Prisoners play Friday, June 16 at Peach’s Grill, 104 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Fyakey is also on the bill. For more information, please visit or

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at

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