Shines was born in the community of Frayser, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was taught to play the guitar by his mother and spent most of his childhood in Memphis, playing slide guitar at an early age in juke joints and on the street. He moved to Hughes, Arkansas, in 1932 and worked on farms for three years, putting aside his music career.A chance meeting with Robert Johnson, his greatest influence, gave him the inspiration to return to music. In 1935, Shines began traveling with Johnson, touring in the United States and Canada. They parted in 1937, one year before Johnson’s death.