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His band was often a staple on the US Billboard R&B chart in those years, with their biggest hit being "The Honeydripper", released in 1945. That single topped the R&B chart, then called the race chart, for 18 weeks. More than 60 years later, "The Honeydripper" remains tied with Louis Jordan's "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" for the longest-ever stay at the top of that chart. It logged a reported two million sales.
Liggins was born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, United States, and moved to San Diego, California in 1932. He moved to Los Angeles in 1939, where he played with Sammy Franklin's California Rhythm Rascals and other groups. When Franklin turned down a chance to record Liggins' song "The Honeydripper", Liggins decided to start his own band. The original Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers recordings were issued on the Exclusive Records imprint of brothers Leon and Otis Rene. Joe Liggins' Honeydrippers was formed in the basement of the Los Angeles home of the saxophonist Little Willie Jackson, who co-founded the group and who, at the time of his death in 2000, was the last original surviving member of the Honeydrippers.
In March 1954, the band took part in a benefit show held at the Club 5-4 in Los Angeles for the wife of Stan Getz.
Joe signed with Specialty Records in 1950, where he gained more hits, including "Rag Mop", "Boom-Chick-A-Boogie", "Pink Champagne", and "Little Joe's Boogie". His songs were mostly a blend of jump blues and basic R&B. With Roy Milton, he was an architect of the small-band jump blues of the first post-war decade. Liggins often toured with such acts as Jimmy Witherspoon, Amos Milburn and the jump blues shouter H-Bomb Ferguson. His 1950 releases, "Pink Champagne" and "I Gotta Right to Cry," both sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs.
Although Liggins' success stopped in the late 1950s, he continued to perform until his death following a stroke, in Lynwood, California, at the age of 72. His song One Sweet Letter appears on the 1996 Rocket Sixty-Nine release Jump Shot!.