Liggins was born in Newby, Oklahoma, United States. He moved with his family to San Diego, California in 1932. He fought under the name of Kid Zulu as a professional boxer until age 18, when he began as a driver for his brother Joe's band, the Honeydrippers. Liggins started his own recording career as a singer, guitarist, and leader of the Drops of Joy, on Art Rupe's Specialty label in 1947. One of his early releases, "Cadillac Boogie" was a direct forerunner of "Rocket 88", itself often called the first rock and roll record.
Recordings such as "Tear Drop Blues" (1948) and, later, "I Ain't Drunk" (1953), featuring leading saxophone players such as Maxwell Davis, made him one of the most successful bandleaders in the jump blues period of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Liggins left Specialty in 1954, recording "I Ain't Drunk" (1954), later covered by Albert Collins, at Aladdin, before fading from the scene. He began his own management and record company Duplex Records in 1958. His wild stage presence and manic delivery influenced Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley.
- Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy (Specialty SPCD 7005, 1989)
- Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy, Vol. 2: Rough Weather Blues (Specialty SPCD-7026-2, 1992)
- Bill Dahl. "Jimmy Liggins | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 135. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Doc Rock. "The 1980s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 171. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.