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.