Will Bradley will always be remembered most for his boogie-woogie orchestra of the early 1940s. Bradley himself, however, preferred to play ballads and had a long and successful career as a trombonist outside of his band. Bradley was a busy studio musician throughout the 1930s, working with such artists as Red Nichols, Eddie Cantor, Victor Young. Jacques Renard, Nat Shilkret, Andre Kostelanetz, Raymond Paige, Kate Smith, and Al Jolson. In 1935 Glenn Miller, who thought Bradley the best trombonist in the business, hired him to play in Ray Noble's American band, which Miller was organizing. He left Noble the following year, however, and returned to studio work. Bradley also played with Milt Shaw's orchestra in 1931, where he met drummer Ray McKinley.
Bradley's name was unknown to the general public when in 1939 William Morris talent agent Willard Alexander suggested he form a swing orchestra. Trombone-playing leaders, such as Miller and Tommy Dorsey, were currently popular, and Alexander felt Bradley would do well on his own. Drummers were also the rage, and Alexander teamed Bradley with old bandmate McKinley, who was then with Jimmy Dorsey. Backed by a powerful publicity campaign the duo's orchestra debuted in 1939 under Bradley's name and soon had its first big hit in ''Celery Stalks.''
The band initially featured pianist Freddie Slack and a young Peanuts Hucko on tenor sax. Trumpeters Lee Castle and Pete Candoli later played with the group. Arrangements were provided by Hugo Winterhalter, Leonard Whitney, and Al Datz. McKinley sang on the more swinging numbers. Other vocalists included Carlotta Dale, Phyllis Miles, Louise Tobin, Larry Southern, and Jimmy Valentine. The group's first recordings were on the Vocalion and Okeh labels. Subsequent releases were on Columbia.
In 1940 Bradley and McKinley began to feature the boogie woogie sound in their arrangements. Initial success with the song ''Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar'' sparked a slew of similar recordings, such as ''Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four'' and ''Scrub Me Mama, with a Boogie Beat.'' The new style proved popular with the public, and the band quickly developed a niche following. By early 1942, however, Bradley had tired of boogie-woogie and wanted to focus more on ballads. McKinley disagreed and left to form his own band.
Bradley set about reforming his orchestra but was forced to hang up his baton after only six months due to the war. He lost too many musicians in the draft and was unable to replace them. The new orchestra did not enter the studio. Vocalists were Terry Allen and Lynn Gardner
Bradley continued to record under his own name during the war, using studio musicians, on the Signature label. Ironically, considering the cause of his orchestra's break-up, in 1944 he released material on the Beacon/Celebrity label as Will Bradley and His Boogie Woogie Boys. In 1947 he also recorded with vocalist Anita O'Day on Signature, and in the 1950s he released three albums, which included one RCA collection of boogie woogie songs.
Bradley worked often as a studio musician after the war and spent many years in the Tonight Show orchestra. In 1953 he did a brief spell with the Sauter-Finegan Band and also composed several classical works in his later years. Will Bradley passed away in 1978.