After his parents separate, he and his father move to memphis in 1921, his mother later rejoins his father but the family unit remains in Memphis.
In 1932, at the age of 17, now married and living in Hughes, Arkansas, Johnny begins learning guitar to complement his accomplished singing, helped along by his older brother Willie and a circle of Hughes musicians that included the young Howlin' Wolf.
In Helena, Arkansas, in 1935 he meets Robert Johnson.
He played a good guitar, the best Johnny had heard. He would have the boogie beat strumming on the bass strings while he played. Nobody was doing that. He would do run-downs and turnbacks, going down to the sixth and seventh. He'd do repeats. None of this was being done. Robert had something that Johnny didn't have, even though people thought Johnny's guitar playing was very striking. He new Robert was the man of the day.
During the next two years the two musicians will ramble throughout the USA and even into Canada.
Johnny appears with Johnson on The Elder Moten Hour, a local radio show in Detroit. However, he and Johnson soon go their separate ways.
Johnny settles in Chacago in 1941 after finding receptive audiences for his music.
He secures a recording date with the Columbia Record label in 1946. But the for blues numbers he records for them are not released.
After dabbling in Jazz, he returns to his blues roots to record for Chess in 1950 but the resulting disc fails to make an impact on the public.
He records for the JOB record label in 1952. He will also make records for JOB with Walter Horton, the harmonica player. However, these records fail to bring him success.
Disillusioned with his lack of recording success and finding his country-tinged blues to be unfashionable, Johnny quits music in 1958. He finds work on a construction site but over the next few years he will keep in touch with the blues scene by taking photographs in the Chacago clubs.
The album Chicago/The Blues/Today! is released in 1965 and includes some contributions from Johnny. They are well received and this leads him back on to the blues circuit. During the following decade and a half he works non-stop, recording and playing concerts and festivals.
In 1969 Willie Dixon recruits Johnny for a new ensemble, the Chicago Blues All-Stars.
Johnny begins playing concerts with Robert Junior Lockwood. The partnership is a lasting one. They tour worldwide and later record two albums together for the Rounder Record label, Hangin' On and Mister Blues Is Back to Stay.
After suffering a stroke in 1980, Johnny is restricted in his ability to play guitar.
Johnny Shines dies on 22 April 1992 after continued long illness.
Back to the Country, Johnny's final album, recorded with Snooky Pryor, is released in 1993.
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