Black began playing the upright bass fiddle. He modeled his "slap bass" technique after one of his idols, Fred Maddox of Maddox Brothers and Rose. Black also developed a "stage clown" persona in the same way that Maddox entertained audiences. Black performed as an exaggerated hillbilly with blacked-out teeth, straw hat and overalls. According to his son, Black said his goal was always to give his audience "a few moments of entertainment and maybe a little bit of humor that'll tickle 'em for a while."
In 1952, Black began playing club and radio shows with guitarist Scotty Moore. Along with two other guitarists and a fiddler, they performed country music tunes by Hank Williams and Red Foleyin Doug Poindexter's band, the Starlight Wranglers. Black and Moore also played in a band with Paul Burlison, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette on steel guitar, and a drummer.
In 1954, Black and Moore were formed into a trio with Elvis Presley.