A self-taught harmonica-player, he developed his technique, which relied upon rhythmic figures, by adapting the work hollers he heard in the fields in which his family worked.
John Tinsley acquired much of his repertoire from, and was stylistically influenced by, the records of Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss.
J.W. Warren was born in 1921 in Enterprise, AL. In a family of eleven children, he was the only one to take up music, starting at the age of fifteen or sixteen.