A strong storyteller and good guitarist, John Henry Barbee learned music playing in various homes throughout Henning, Tennessee as a youth. He worked for a short time with John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy Williamson I) in 1934, then began playing with Sunnyland Slim. They made appearances across the Mississippi Delta. Barbee later moved to Chicago, where he recorded for Vocalion in 1938. He played with Moody Jones' group on Maxwell Street in the '40s, but then left the music business for several years. Barbee recorded for Spivey and Storyville in the mid-'60s, and toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. A portion of the tour's concert in Hamburg, Germany was issued by Fontana. Barbee was involved in an auto accident in 1964, and suffered a heart attack while in jail waiting for the case to come to court.