William Ballard Doggett was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother, a church pianist, introduced him to music when he was 9 years old. By the time he was 15, he had joined a Philadelphia area combo, playing local theaters and clubs while attending high school.
He later sold his band to Lucky Millinder, and worked during the 1930s and early 1940s for both Millinder and arranger Jimmy Mundy. In 1942 he was hired as The Ink Spots' pianist and arranger.
In 1949, he replaced Wild Bill Davis in Louis Jordan's Tympany Five. It was there that he first achieved success playing the Hammond organ and he is also reputed to have written one of Jordan's biggest hits, Saturday Night Fish Fry, for which Jordan claimed the writing credit.