From 1933 to 1935 he worked in Ben Pollack's orchestra and after that became a founding member of the Bob Crosby Orchestra. He later worked with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, but also worked with Crosby again in 1941. Later in the 1940s he became a studio musician leading his own Dixieland sessions.
In the 1950s he and Bob Haggart created the Lawson-Haggart band and they worked together in 1968 to form the World's Greatest Jazz Band, a Dixieland group which performed for the next ten years. He remained an important figure in Dixieland music until his death in 1995, aged 83. He was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998.