Joe Haymes was a good musician but not a good bandleader. He lacked the business and marketing sense to make any of his orchestras successful. What Joe Haymes was really good at, though, was assembling top-notch musicians into bands that had great potential. These groups were so good that other bandleaders wanted to take them over, and Haymes allowed that to happen time and time again. Subsequently Haymes never achieved the fame he deserved.
As a teen Haymes worked as a trapeze artist in a travelling circus. He also played drums in the circus band. He later taught himself piano and took a job as a staff arranger for Ted Weems before forming his own orchestra in the early 1930s. The band featured such musicians as Toots Mondello, Pee Wee Erwin, and Bud Freeman and made many recordings, though only some were under Haymes' name.
In 1934 Haymes turned his group over to Buddy Rogers and formed a new orchestra. In 1935 this second orchestra attracted the attention of Tommy Dorsey, who had just split with his brother, Jimmy. Haymes let Dorsey hired away 12 of his 14 musicians. Again Haymes formed a new orchestra, touring and recording throughout the 1930s though never achieving great popularity. In 1938 his road orchestra was taken over by Les Brown.
During the 1940s Haymes lived in Oklahoma for a while then worked in Hollywood before moving to New York, where he took a position with CBS.