Henry T. 'Ted' Griffin, 1948-2013: Business owner restored venue for blues club

Henry Ted Griffin
Henry Ted Griffin

Henry T. “Ted” Griffin, who revived a legendary rural Lucas County blues venue where such stars as John Lee Hooker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and B.B. King once played, died Sunday in his Swanton Township home. He was 64.

Mr. Griffin died in his sleep, his sister Jackie Ellis said. He had some health problems, but he still operated his business, H.T. Griffin Excavating.

“My brother was a hard worker,” his sister said.

He continued to present leading blues artists at Griffin’s Hines Farm Blues Club on South Berkey Southern Road in Swanton Township. In mid-December, Chicago blues saxophonist Eddie Shaw performed there.

By restoring Hines Farm, Mr. Griffin maintained “one of our region’s cultural jewels that has been recognized not only on a local level, but a state level, a national level, an international level,” said Matthew Donahue, an instructor in popular culture at Bowling Green State University, who put together an oral and photographic history of Hines Farm and co-produced a documentary. “He opened his door to many musicians, many blues enthusiasts.”

“He loved the blues,” said John Rockwood, a musician and producer who plays harmonica in Voodoo Libido. “He was a country guy. He wasn’t a big-time promoter. He just knew what he liked and what the people liked. People went there for the music, but [also] for the ribs and catfish and the whole atmosphere."

Mr. Rockwood and his group performed at Hines Farm regularly and opened for the late David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a Grammy-award-winning singer and Delta blues guitarist.

“It was a very special place to play. You felt it,” Mr. Rockwood said. “You played better. You knew you were a part of history out there.”

That history began when Frank “Sonny” and Sarah Hines in the late ’40s opened an attraction where blues led the bill, but variety was a staple. A poster for a 1966 engagement by John Lee Hooker, “singing as he did for the QUEEN of England,” also lists “exotic shaker Valerie Compton & Her Boa,” and “music by Curtis Grant & the House Rockers.” When Hines Farm opened a dance pavilion in 1961, Count Basie and His Orchestra came to play.

Mr. and Mrs. Hines offered motorcycle and horse races; baseball games, and carnival rides. They were African-American, but Hines Farm was “open to all colors and creeds coming out there,” Mr. Donahue said. Through the turbulent 1960s, “places like Hines Farm are an opportunity for people to unify.”

Mr. Griffin had fond memories of Hines Farm from his youth. “It was no pig-feet joint,” he told The Blade in 1998. “No stabbings or shootings or funky fights. People would put on a clean shirt and tie when they came out here.”

Hines Farm closed in 1976, and he bought it two years later, slowly and steadily restoring the club and grounds. He put on shows with big names — “Honeyboy” Edwards and Magic Slim — and such local luminaries as Art and Roman Griswold and Big Jack Reynolds.

“He kept the tradition going,” his son Steve Coleman said. He and Mr. Griffin’s sister, who has been manager, said the family plans to keep Hines Farm operating.

Mr. Griffin was born Aug. 15, 1948, in Mississippi to Maggie Griffin and Henry Graves. He spent time with his grandmother in the South and in Swanton Township when his mother moved and wed Roosevelt Johnson, who “raised Henry as his own,” his sister said. He attended Anthony Wayne High School and John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles. He received a journeyman’s card after an apprenticeship in electrical and electronics tech and management at Los Angeles City College. He worked at Lockheed Corp.

He returned to Swanton Township about 1970 and established his business, which did highway work and demolition cleanup, but also hauled sand and dug ponds, his son said.

He was a member of Antioch Baptist Church.

He was formerly married to Lynn Coleman.

Surviving are his sons, Steve Coleman and Mike Griffin; mother, Maggie Johnson; sisters, Lynette Graves, Lawanda Graves, Viday Graves, and Jackie Ellis; brothers, Billie Johnson and Christopher Johnson, and four grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today in the House of Day Funeral Home. Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in the funeral home, with a wake at noon.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.