Will Bradley; Band Leader, Trombonist

Times Staff Writer

Will Bradley, a handsome, urbane studio trombonist who emerged from those anonymous ranks to lead what briefly was one of the most celebrated Big Bands of the early and mid-1940s, has died.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Bradley, noted for such popular hits of the day as "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Celery Stalks at Midnight" and "Strange Cargo," died Saturday in Flemington, N.J. He was 78.

With drummer Ray McKinley, whom Bradley lured from Jimmy Dorsey, the Will Bradley Band was a mainstay of ballrooms and hotels during the wartime years of sentimental ballads, jive tunes and boogie-woogie.

Called by Glenn Miller "the best of all" the trombonists of his day, Wilbur Schwichtenberg had worked for years in recording studios before emerging to join the old Milt Shaw and Ray Noble bands (Miller was a fellow trombonist with Noble). In 1939 Schwichtenberg became Bradley and Wilbur became Will and he and McKinley (considered a co-leader although he sat at the back of the band) produced a series of sweet ballads and swing tunes for Columbia records.

With Freddie Slack at the piano the Bradley band recorded "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance," with Carlotta Dale on vocal, and "Old Doc Yak," with McKinley singing and playing drums.

Louise Tobin, then Harry James' wife, sang "Deed I Do" with Bradley shortly before the band switched emphasis from ballads to boogie.

Slack, later to form his own famous band, was the catalyst behind a white group of musicians playing what had been a black innovation.

In George T. Simons' book "The Big Bands," McKinley recounts how the musicians were experimenting with instrumental arrangements based on the blues with an eight-to-the-bar piano boogie beat.

"There was one point where I had a drum break and for some reason or other that night instead of playing the break, I sang out "Oh, beat me, daddy, eight to the bar!" After the set McKinley encouraged the writing of a song with that title and it became the biggest of the Bradley band's hits, selling more than 100,000 copies.

Bradley tried to chase that success with "Rock-a-Bye Boogie," "Scrub Me, Mama, With a Boogie Beat," "Fry Me, Cookie, With a Can of Lard" and others.

But he quickly became disenchanted with the band's new sound, preferring the more solid tunes of the day, and he and McKinley eventually split up, McKinley to form his own group in 1942.

Bradley brought new talent into his band after McKinley's departure, among them a young drummer named Shelley Manne and a trumpet player who called himself Shorty Rogers. These two were to become an integral part of modern jazz a few years later.

But the wartime military draft decimated the ranks of the younger players and Simon writes of one engagement in Detroit in which Bradley told him that six musicians moved from the bandstand to the recruiting station in a single week.

After that Bradley was forced to cancel many of his personal appearances and rely on studio musicians for recordings. Bradley himself soon returned to the studios where he had started.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, a son, a daughter and a grandson.

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