While the nearly three decades of trombonist and vocalist Joe Harris' career were filled with admirable service to jazz combos and orchestras, he would have done well to stay out of cars. In the late '30s he was out of action for more than a year after fracturing his skull in one crash and a later pile-up wound up finishing him off completely. His performing activities began at the age of 16 but remained on a low-key, part-time basis through the '20s despite the interest shown toward him by Jack Teagarden, a true great of the trombone in this genre. Eventually Harris would replace Teagarden in the band of Ben Pollack, riding the master's recommendations in the door. Prior to that he honed his chops in riverboat bands and in a combo Frankie Trumbauer led both in Chicago and on the road.
The Pollack gig ate up a good deal of 1933; after that it was the freelance scene in New York City, by 1935 leading to engagements with the pretty hot bands of both Bob Crosby and Benny Goodman. In the late '30s he joined the staff orchestra at the MGM studios and following his first accident recuperation began blowing in a big band under the direction of Lyle Murphy. Pollack brought him back in the summer of 1942; gigs with Pee Wee Erwin and a second try at holding up under Benny Goodman's temper followed in due course. The trombonist had established a California base and was busy both in studios and bands such as Ted Jefferson's Mel-o-tones in the late '40s and early '50s.