He began his musical career in Kansas City, Missouri 1922 as a drummer. From 1926 to 1938 he worked as a pianist, often accompanying Joe Turner. In 1938 he and Turner appeared in the Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. This concert started a boogie-woogie craze, and Turner and two other performers at the concert, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, worked together afterwards at Café Society for a long time; they also toured and recorded together.
In 1950 he moved to Buffalo, New York but, despite problems with his health, continued to tour and record, notably with Jimmy Rushing, Turner, and Jazz at the Philharmonic.