Originally from Texarkana, Texas, he first recorded in Houston, as Peppermint Nelson, in the late 1940s, accompanied by his friend Lightnin' Hopkins. He then made further recordings including, in 1950, "Raining In My Heart" for the Sittin' In With record label run by Bob Shad, who allegedly forgot Nelson's name and released them as by Peppermint Harris.
In 1951 he moved to Modern Records in Los Angeles, California, and had his biggest R&B hit, on the Aladdin Records label, with "I Got Loaded", which reached number one on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in November that year. He had eight further releases on the label but none were as successful. In the late 1950s and 1960s he had releases on various small Southern California labels, such as Dart, Combo, Duke, Jewel, but these were also less successful. He issued one self-titled album, on the Time label, in 1962.