Work was born in Ohio but moved to Dukedom, Tennessee with his family at age two. He picked up guitar at age seven, and learned fiddle and songwriting by his early teens.
By 1945, he had begun playing professionally in Pontiac, Michigan, where many Southerners had moved to take jobs in the automotive industry. He appeared on local radio and published a songbook late in the decade, in addition to recording two singles for the Trophy Records label. His third single was "Tennessee Border", for Alben Records; his version was not a hit, but the following year, the song became a hit for Red Foley, Bob Atcher, Jimmie Skinner, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Hank Williams also recorded the tune, but didn't chart with it.
Work then signed with Decca Records in 1949 and that same year appeared for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry and on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree. He recorded for Decca with members of Red Foley's band, but none of his Decca recordings were hits, and the label dropped him in 1950. Subsequently he recorded for Bullet, London, and Capitol, the last of which released him in 1953. Signing soon after with Dot Records, he finally found chart success in 1955 with the songs "Making Believe" (somewhat overshadowed by Kitty Wells phenomenally popular cover) and "That's What Makes the Jukebox Play". He played a few concerts with Elvis Presley that year.
Later in the 1950s his fortunes in music declined, and he began working in real estate. He cut a few singles in 1959 for All Records, then left performance entirely to become a millwright back in Dukedom. He continued to write songs, however, working for Acuff-Rose.
Bear Family Records began reissuing Work's recordings in 1986.
He returned to Dukedom in the 80's to retire. However went back to work at the Goodyear Tire plant in Union City, TN. He worked there for several years before retiring again. He currently lives in Dukedom with his wife.