Sunday, March 29, 2015


"You Came A Long Way From St. Louis".....     

My 3rd Cousin Ray McKinley wasn't from St. Louis, but he's the featured vocalist on the original recording of that song along with an array of great boogie woogie classics like "Down the Road A Piece" and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar."  Take a listen  to the link below. 

Oh and did I mention Ray was one of the premiere drummers of the swing era fronting his own band as well as keeping the beat for The Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller's famous Army Air Force Band during World War II?  As a matter of fact I've found more than a few 78's that Ray recorded with swing giants including The Andrews Sisters, Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt.

Ray McKinley was raised in my home town of Ft. Worth. He and my grandfather were first cousins but they could have easily been mistaken for brothers.  The self taught drummer followed his dream and left Texas while still in his teens playing with dance bands across the country.  By 1934 he had become drummer with The Dorsey Brothers playing along side bandmates Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Ray was even there the night of the famous "on stage" breakup between Tommy & Jimmy. 

Here's a clip from a 1938 movie short featuring Ray's amazing musicianship with The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.

There are dozens of recordings of not only Ray's studio work but of the live WW2 radio broadcasts with Glenn Miller.  Of all of Ray's work, the broadcasts to the troops are some of my favorites. Many of them feature Ray's vocals as well as his fine skills as a drummer. They are made even more poignant when you listen to those final performances without Glenn, who's airplane was lost while flying over the English Channel on the eve of the war's end. 

The link below is taken from one of the many Army Air Corp radio shows "I Sustain the Wings" announcing the lineup which includes Ray McKinley and actor Broderick Crawford (shown in the above ad for CBS Radio.) This is one of the broadcasts from New York opening with a great rendition of "Caribbean Clipper " where Ray really lets loose on the drums! There are many recordings of entire shows available on Youtube as well as ITunes and Amazon.

 Glenn Miller's estate would eventually ask Ray to become the new leader of Glenn's band.  He spent the next few years touring the U.S. and the world bringing that big band sound to all those adoring fans as well as the next generation of music lovers. I've especially loved finding early 1960's television clips of The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Here's a great segment with Ray and Miller band singer Johnny Desmond. For you Broadway fans a little side note: Johnny Desmond finished up the original Broadway run of "Funny Girl"  as Nick Arnstein alongside Barbra Streisand.

I never had the chance to meet Ray McKinley but I love hearing the stories from my relatives of his wit, that twinkle in his eye and his amazing talent. 

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