Born just outside of Memphis in 1915, Johnny Shines absorbed the lively scene on Beale Street, where he heard Blind Lemon Jefferson. He later moved to Arkansas, where he met Howlin' Wolf in 1932. Though frightened by Wolf's intensity, Shines nonetheless was influenced by his music. Johnny was to meet his true musical inspiration in 1935 when he was introduced to Robert Johnson in Helena, Arkansas. He came to know Johnson's music as well as anyone. They struck up a friendship and traveled together to Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Detroit and Canada.
After Robert Johnson died, Johnny moved to Chicago in 1941, where he worked a day job and played taverns at night. In the late '40s and early '50s he made his first recordings for the Columbia, Chess, and J.O.B. labels. Even though he was one of the pioneers of the postwar Chicago blues style, Shines never experienced commercial success and quit the music business in disgust in 1958.
With the American blues revival of the late '60s and early '70s, Johnny once again began performing on the concert, club, and festival stages of the U.S. and Europe. New audiences recognized Shines as a masterful slide guitarist and a passionate, intense singer. He released three albums on Rounder in the late '70s and early '80s, two of them with Robert Jr. Lockwood.
In 1991, Johnny recorded Back To The Country with Snooky Pryor, Johnny's first new recording in ten years. In the early 1950's, Johnny and Snooky recorded sides for the J.O.B. label that helped lay the ground work for Chicago's electrified, small band blues. Reunited four decades later in the Texas hill country, they took the opposite tack with a set of acoustic, country blues that returned them to their roots in the Mississippi delta. Robert Johnson, the proud, tormented genius of Delta blues, is the spirit hovering over Back To The Country.
In the forty years since Johnny and Snooky first recorded together, blues has undergone unlikely transformations, growing first into white popular music, then disappearing almost entirely, before being revived several times. Back To The Country remains as close as you're likely to get to the source - the Delta, one more time.
The photograph shown above captures Johnny (on left) with Snooky Pryor.