The drumming of Ray McKinley was a driving force that contributed greatly to the success of Jimmy Dorsey before WWII and the Glenn Miller American Band Of The Allied Expeditionary Forces during the war. As part of the Will Bradley aggregation, which he co-led between his stints with Dorsey and Miller, his personable and humorous vocals were an added attraction.
McKinley's first sides were recorded with Red Nichols for the Brunswick record label. Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey were also members of this nine piece Nichols group that waxed five sides over two sessions in the spring and early summer of 1931. In 1932 McKinley again worked with Glenn Miller in the Smith-Ballew band as well as in the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934-5. In May of 1934 he recorded four sides with a Benny Goodman small group that included Charlie and Jack Teagarden, Teddy Wilson and others.
When the fueding Dorsey Brothers broke up in 1935 McKinley joined Jimmy Dorsey, in his new orchestra, where he remained until 1939. Although the Jimmy Dorsey band did not achieve the fame that brother Tommy’s band did, it waxed some fine swinging sides driven by McKinley on skins. Parade Of The Milk Bottle Caps and John Silver were two of the most well known instrumental recordings of the group and both were enhanced greatly by McKinley's impeccable timekeeping and occasional fiery outbursts.
In 1939 Ray McKinley became a partner of trombonist Will Bradley co-leading a band that recorded under Bradley's name. This band, that also featured Freddie Slack on piano, cut dozens of boogie-woogie laden sides for Columbia between September of 1939 and January of 1942. Many were hits, some featuring McKinley’s humorous and personable vocals and one line shouts like on Celery Stalks At Midnight and Fry Me Cookie In A Can Of Lard. Unfortunately there was friction between the two stars. Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar and Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four type numbers wore on Bradley, as so did the syrupy trombone ballads of Bradley wear on McKinley. The two had a less than amicable split in 1942 as reported by Down Beat magazine.
In 1942 McKinley formed his own short-lived band recording briefly for Capitol and then joined the Army. While in the service he joined Glenn Miller’s AEF band and while in Europe formed his own “Swing Shift” group culled from the heart of Miller’s band and spotlighting, among others, pianist Mel Powell and reed man Peanuts Hucko. The Miller Allied Expeditionary Forces band waxed numerous incredibly swinging tunes in London's Abbey Road studios during the war. These recordings have since been released on CD and find McKinley really driving the very large outfit on numbers like Bubble Bath, Jeep Jockey Jump, Anvil Chorus et. al. After Miller’s disappearance McKinley co-led Glenn Miller's American Band Of The Allied Expeditionary Forces briefly with Jerry Gray.
Back in the U.S. Ray formed his own civilian band again recording for Majestic in 1946 and Victor from 1947-50, this time using the rich arrangements of Eddie Sauter and Dean Kincaide and featuring players like Peanuts Hucko and Mundell Lowe, and later adding Joe Farrante, Sam Butera, Buddy Morrow and others.
From ’50-‘55 McKinley free-lanced, occasionally leading his own bands, and working as a TV singer in NYC. In 1956 he was commissioned by the widow of Glenn Miller to organize a new band under Miller’s name using the original library and style. This band made a successful tour of Iron Curtain countries in 1957 and continued to tour the U.S. until 1966. McKinley then free-lanced again, leading an orchestra under his own name and recording for Dot in 1966. He also played drums in yet another incarnation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, fronted by Buddy DeFranco, and recorded for Columbia House in 1972. His last recording session was cut with just himself on drums and pianist Lou Stein, who recorded five sides together for the Chiaroscuro label in 1977.
Ray McKinley Discography Tracks
- 113 Vocals
- 110 Instruments & Performance
- 62 Writing & Arrangement
- 19 Featuring & Presenting
- 44 Conducting & Leading
- 2 Acting, Literary & Spoken