Sonny Payne had the bigest opportunity of his lifetime as the drummer for Count Basie's big band. It was ideal for Payne as he fitted in perfectly with pianist Basie and guitarist Freddie Green. In 1944 he began a professional, playing with the Dud & Paul Bascomb band, Hot Lips Page, Earl Bostic (1945-47) and Tiny Grimes (off and on during 1947-50). Payne spent from 1950-53 with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra and led his own band for two years.. With Count Basie during 1955-65, Sonny Payne toured constantly, and appeared on many classic recordings.
After leaving in 1965, he briefly led a trio, worked with Frank Sinatra and then had a long stint with Harry James' Big Band (1966-73); James always did want his band to sound like Basie's! In his later years Sonny Payne had a short second period with Count (1973-74), toured Europe with Illinois Jacquet and also returned to James' orchestra shortly before his death in 1979. Sonny Payne never led a record date of his own but was on many Basie records, some by James plus a few combo dates.