Harris traveled as a singer and dancer with the Lucky Millinder Big Band in his youth. His first big solo hit was in 1944 with his record "Who Threw The Whiskey in the Well". He was a dynamic live performer who brought a lot of attention to the emerging styles of rhythm and blues.
Harris made a major contribution to the birth of rock and roll when he covered "Good Rocking Tonight", written and originally recorded by Roy Brown. Brown's version was a jump blues with a jazz rhythm section. Harris's cover version was much more frantic and played with a much stronger back beat. In effect, Harris, a black artist, had done what many white artists were to do later. He had turned rhythm and blues into rock and roll and made one of the first rock and roll records. The song was later covered by Elvis Presley.