Dave Tough was famous (and infamous) for several things. He was a subtle and versatile drummer who hated to solo. He was an intellectual whose career was often rather aimless.
Tough began playing drums as a child and while still at school was a member of the Austin High School Gang. This loosely assembled group of musicians effectively formulated the Chicago style of jazz which became popular in the '20s.
Dave Tough, a swinging drummer with a fine sense of musical quality, was a significant member of the group. He travelled to Europe in the '20s and also spent time in New York City making records with Eddie Condon, Red Nichols and others.
In 1932 he was forced into temporary inactivity through illness, returning to the scene in 1935. Although his work up to the time of his illness had been primarily in small groups, he now slotted into the big band scene as if made for it. He played first with Tommy Dorsey and later with Red Norvo, Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman and Dorsey again. Tough then joined Jimmy Dorsey, Bud Freeman, Jack Teagarden, Artie Shaw and others. His employers were a who's who of the best of the white big bands of the swing era.
There were a number of reasons for his restlessness, among them his insistence on musical perfection, irritation with the blandness of many of the more commercial arrangements the bands had to play, and his own occasionally unstable personality.
During World War II he was briefly in the US Navy (where he played with Shaw) but was discharged on medical grounds. On his discharge he joined Woody Herman, with whom he had played briefly before the war. The records of Herman's First Herd demonstrated to fans worldwide that the physically frail and tiny Tough was a powerful giant among drummers. Despite his broad-based style, Tough believed himself unsuited to bop and for much of his career he sought to develop a career as a writer.
His disaffection with the changing jazz scene accelerated his physical and mental deterioration. Although helped by many people who knew him, among them writers Leonard Feather and John Hammond, his lifestyle had numbered his days. Walking home one night, he fell, fractured his skull and died from the injury on 9 December 1948. His body lay unrecognized in the morgue for three days. Whether playing in small Chicago-style groups or in any of the big bands of which he was a member, Tough consistently demonstrated his subtle, driving swing. It was with Herman, however, that he excelled, urging along one of the finest of the period's jazz orchestras with sizzling enthusiasm.