Born in California, Shah also spent time in Somerville, Texas, with his blues harmonica and guitar playing grandfather, Sam Dawson. Dawson had recorded for both Alan Lomax and Duke Records. His mother, a beautician, encouraged him to be a salesman for Jet magazine in the latter part of the 1950s. This allowed Shah access to Oakland’s bars and clubs, where he heard musicians such as Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Juke Boy Bonner and Big Mama Thornton.
Shah told Living Blues magazine that his grandfather’s passion for the blues inspired him. “Well see I picked it up from him, he’d be out in the fields singin’ all that (sings in a slow moan) ‘Tell me how long, whoa, tell me how long it’s been since you’ve been away from home’ Well, that’s raw! That’s a big damn difference from ‘Good Golly Miss Molly'”.
He moved to Detroit in 1967, and worked for Ford Motors for fifteen years. Shah bought himself a cheap harmonica in 1976 and, while operating as a taxicab driver, Shah was introduced to local blues jam sessions. “Hell, that was it, no turning back then”, Shah recalled.