WC lived in Chicago, Illinois for three years in the early 1970s, attending law school. Whatever Chicago’s charms may be, they generally aren’t available to impoverished college students. It was the waning days of the Richard J. Daley administration, a mix of egregious political corruption, sharp racial tension and serious street crime. And the traffic was horrible.
There wasn’t a lot of affordable entertainment. But there was The Quiet Knight. WC has mentioned The Quiet Knight several times in this blog, usually in the context of a musician seen there for the first time. Most recently in the Karla Bonoff review. The Quiet Knight was where a lot of folks saw a future star musician for the first time. The Knight’s owner, the late Richard Harding, had an astonishing talent for finding new artists and persuading them to come to his club a for a few days or a week.
But he kept the admission down, generally no cover charge and a two drink minimum. The El from Chicago Avenue to Elmont was less than a buck, and ran all night. Two beers – well, two Falstaffs – was about five dollars. A pretty good deal on a weekend. Affordable to a scholarship law student.
And the artists WC saw there were simply astonishing: John Prine, Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Nanci Griffith, Phil Ochs, Karla Bonoff, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffet (opening for Dan Hicks), Herbie Hancock, Carly Simon. Tom Waits and Loudon Wainwright, to name just a few. Most of them before they were stars.
Buffet’s setlist – WC went to Buffet shows on three consecutive nights – were pretty much the songs on Before the Salt, Buffet’s Nashville days’ compilation album.1 WC bought tape cassettes of a couple of Buffet albums at one of those shows.
There are legends about The Quiet Knight. It’s where Steve Goodman played “City of New Orleans” for Arlo Guthrie after hours. Jimmy Buffett’s 1973 hit ballad “He Went To Paris” is based on Eddie Balchowsky, the one-handed classical pianist who was the Quiet Knight’s custodian. Bob Marley recoded a live album there, at a show two days after WC left town, with most of the recordings stashed there some place, never released.
The biggest legends, though, were about Richard Harding, the owner of The Quiet Knight. WC never met him, but you couldn’t miss him. A big guy, a former linebacker, with a big beard and a big voice, he often greeted you at the door, sometimes with the promise, “I’ve got something special for you tonight.” He usually did.
Sometimes he was behind the bar. Sometimes he was in the front row. Legend had it that Richard Harding could sniff out talent before any of the big record companies. That he knew people who knew people. That he had stared down some mobster trying to put the squeeze on him. Legends of epic pub crawls after the Knight closed for the evening (It didn’t have a late hours liquor license). A folksinger buddy of WC’s told Richard Harding stories for hours one night after a friend’s wedding. Some of them may have even been true. It really doesn’t matter.
Because Harding had the ability to find talented young musicians ahead of anyone else, and to persuade them to come to his small, 400-seat venue and perform. WC is deeply grateful.
Los Angeles had The Troubador. Chicago had The Quiet Knight. When WC went back to Chicago in the early 1980s on a business trip, it was disappointing to learn that The Quiet Knight had closed, that Richard Harding had disappeared. But between 1969 and 1979, it was something very special. Richard Harding died in 2012; there’s a nice obit by Dave Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Time and entropy chews us all up. But WC doesn’t think we’re going to see the likes of The Quiet Knight again.
- Jimmy Buffet’s excellent, but very long shows at the Knight were largely responsible for WC’s near-failing grade in corporate finance. it wasn’t just lost study time in advance of the final; very late hours, too. ↩