“Flat Foot Floogie” (1938) Benny Goodman with Harry James and Dave Tough

“Flat Foot Floogie”

Composed by Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart and Bud Green; probably arranged by Edgar Sampson.

Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on May 31, 1938 in New York.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Harry Aaron Finkelman (Ziggy Elman), first trumpet; Chris Griffin and Harry James, trumpets; Vernon Brown and Red Ballard, trombones; Ernani “Noni” Bernardi, first alto saxophone; Dave Matthews, alto saxophone; Lawrence “Bud” Freeman and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Dave Tough, drums.

The Benny Goodman band onstage – 1938: L-R: front: BG, Ben Heller, Bud Freeman, Noni Bernardi; rear: Dave Tough’s drums; Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman, Harry James. (*)

The story: 

Dave Tough (shown at right – 1938) was unquestionably one of the best drummers of the swing era. He was a tiny man, standing about five feet six inches tall, and weighing about 120 pounds. He was good-looking, intelligent and thoughtful. What he did when playing the drums was not complicated, and he was not a great technician. But whatever he did, it swung, and it caused the playing of other musicians to swing. His main objective was to make any band he was playing with sound better.

David Jaffray Tough (April 26, 1907- December 9, 1948) was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the youngest child of James and Hannah Fullerton Tough, both of whom were born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He had two brothers, George and James, and a sister, Agnes. His father, who was a cashier in the bank owned by his brother George Tough, also dabbled in the Oak Park real estate, selling houses on speculation.  His mother died of apoplexy (a stroke) on May 16, 1916 when he was nine. A maternal aunt began living in the Tough house after her sister’s death to help care for the Tough children, and in 1921, she and Tough’s father married. He went to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School and later to Oak Park High School. He began piano lessons at age seven, but within a year, he had gravitated to the drums. By his mid-teens, he was a drummer, playing in whatever groups he could to get experience.

In 1921, after Tough’s father took a disastrous plunge into the Chicago commodities market, he was forced to sell his home in Oak Park, and move to East Chicago, Indiana, a blue-collar area. Although young Dave transferred from Oak Park High School to Washington High School in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, it appears that he never attended there. By age fifteen, his formal education was over.(1) But by this time, he had acquired passable skills as a drummer, and began playing gigs for money.

At the same time he became a semi-professional drummer, Tough became a drinker. Alcohol and marijuana were both very much a part of the subculture in which most jazz/dance band musicians lived in the 1920s, as was poverty and travel. Tough did not smoke marijuana. Early on, he embraced the bohemian, vagabond life that many dance band musicians were required to live in order to ply their trade.

As he slowly learned the skills necessary to become a professional drummer, he began working with various small groups. He began to play at fraternity dances at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, among other small potatoes gigs in Chicago and environs. Tough was also drawn to other forms of culture. He began visiting a night club called the Green Mask, where he heard poetry readings by Max Bodenheim and Kenneth Rexroth. He was interested in literature and painting. He also began listening to various black jazz groups on Chicago’s South Side, with Joe “King” Oliver’s (featuring young Louis Armstrong on cornet and Warren “Baby” Dodds on drums), being his favorite.

By 1923, Tough had met and began playing with a group of young white musicians who were trying to learn to play jazz. This group, later called the Austin High School Gang (after the high school in Austin, Illinois, a district of Chicago), included Jimmy and Dick McPartland, Frank Teschemacher, Dave North, Jim Lanigan and Bud Freeman.Tough and Freeman became close friends at that time, and remained so for the rest of Tough’s life. It was also at this time that Tough met Dorothy Phillips, who attended Austin High School and liked to be around this group of musicians.Tough and Phillips would have a spasmodic relationship over the next ten years.

The next most notable event in Tough’s life occurred when he went to Europe with a group of musicians on June 11,1927. His experiences there, particularly in Paris and Berlin, greatly shaped his attitudes toward culture and life in general. Europeans did not really understand what jazz was in the 1920s, but they knew that it was new, different and exciting, and were curious about it.  Consequently, American jazz musicians (when they were able to get work) were generally treated well there. Tough’s drinking began to interfere with his work while he was in Europe.

Tough and Dorothy Phillips (shown above left – 1927) were married on May 27, 1927 and divorced in 1936. (Although she did not travel with him to Europe, she managed to follow him there a short time later.) Tough returned to the USA in early March 1929, estranged from Dorothy.

After his return to the US, he spent about a year in New York, working very little and drinking a lot. By this time, his alcoholism was greatly interfering with his professional activities as a drummer. He returned to Chicago in the late spring of 1930. Based on the limited evidence that has survived, the period Tough spent in Chicago from 1930 through most of 1935 was a dark and unproductive one. Alcohol ruled his life, though he may also have begun to have symptoms of epilepsy at this time. (2)

It appears that Tough moved to Manhattan toward the end of 1935, and was seemingly sober enough then to begin to reestablish himself as a jazz drummer. Among his earliest activities at this time was his appearance early in 1936 as a sitter-in at The Famous Door, a jazz club on 52nd Street, with the band that was being led there by vocalist Red McKenzie, that included one of Tough’s old friends from Chicago, guitarist Eddie Condon, and a new friend, trumpeter Bunny Berigan. Among the visitors to that club was Tommy Dorsey, who was then leading a band that was struggling to establish itself musically and commercially. In March of 1936, Dorsey made a conditional offer to Tough: stop drinking, and then join his band. Tough accepted, and his participation in the swing era began.

Tough worked steadily and well for Tommy Dorsey from early 1936 through June of 1937, though he may have been away from the band on a couple of brief occasions, probably because of health issues related to his epilepsy. His drinking seemed to be under control during this period. Tough left TD in early July 1937. (Tough is shown above with Tommy Dorsey’s band outside the entrance of the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, NJ – summer 1936. Tough stands to Tommy Dorsey’s right.)

Tough was away from the TD band for a time in July of 1937, but returned and remained until shortly after 1938 began. He joined Bunny Berigan probably around January 15, 1938. After Bunny and drummer George Wettling came to a parting of the ways at the end of December, Bunny had been trying out different drummers, including an old friend, Rollo Laylan. None had worked out. Clyde Rounds, one of Berigan’s sax men, recalled the diminutive Mr. Tough coming into the Berigan band:

“Davey, as we all called him, was a man of many parts. Of Scottish descent, he could be as dour as any true member of the kilt set or convulse us with his outrageously wild sense of humor. Also highly intelligent and imaginative, he could have been a successful writer, poet or composer. He was the best and most solid drummer I ever worked with, who despised the idea of a drummer being a flashy soloist in the Krupa tradition, and played very few solos himself. Like Bunny and his predecessor Wettling, Davey had a strong affinity for hard liquor, and also like Bunny, he couldn’t stay on the wagon for long. Rollo Laylan couldn’t swing the band, and the difference with Davey Tough in the driving seat was obvious to musicians and listeners alike. Bunny had auditioned several drummers, but none of them had what he was looking for. When he heard that Tough was available, he went all out to get him and dispensed with an audition.” (3)

Word spread quickly among musicians in New York that Dave Tough was back, and that he was playing better than ever.The Berigan band, with him “In the driving seat,” swung as it never had before. Bunny and his sidemen were elated by Tough’s electric rhythmic presence. Unfortunately for them, events elsewhere were conspiring to take Davey away.

Almost immediately after the sudden departure of Gene Krupa from the Benny Goodman band in early March of 1938, probably through machinations engineered by Music Corporation of America (MCA), booking agent for Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman, it was decided that Tough was needed to hold the very successful (with a sponsored weekly network radio show), but somewhat shaken, Goodman band together. Tough was approached by Goodman’s manager, and offered a salary higher than Berigan could pay, to join the Goodman band. Reluctantly, Tough accepted, and put in his two-week notice with Bunny.  (Above: Tough and Berigan in the Victor recording studio in Manhattan – January 26, 1938.)

Benny Goodman, who had known and played with Tough in Chicago when they were both teen-agers, knew of his abilities as a drummer. He also knew of his problem with alcohol. He harbored no illusions about Tough. But Benny also knew that despite his very real problems, Tough, when he was right, was a marvelous big band drummer, and at that particular moment, he needed what Tough could provide. Dave’s work, first with Dorsey, and then with Berigan, had been exemplary. Benny, who had for some time been growing more resentful of Gene Krupa’s loud (and crowd-pleasing) drumming and histrionics, looked forward to playing with Tough, whose approach to drumming was so different from Gene’s. By comparison, Tough’s drumming and persona were almost unnoticeable to audiences. Musicians in the Goodman band (and fans attuned to the rhythms of jazz) took note of what Tough was doing however, and they liked it. Dave Tough joined Benny Goodman’s band on March 19, 1938. His friend Bud Freeman, after almost two years with Tommy Dorsey, followed him into the Goodman band on March 28. The personnel of the great Benny Goodman band of 1938 was now essentially in place. (Shown above right L-R: Red Ballard, Dave Tough, Vernon Brown and Benny Goodman – 1938.)

The music: “Flat Foot Floogie” was one of the big novelty tune hits of 1938.(4) By the time Benny Goodman and his band recorded it at the end of May, the two new key members of the band, drummer Dave Tough and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, had settled in nicely. Tough in particular had taken hold of the band’s rhythm in his own unique way, and as a result the band’s performances now very often soared.

The Benny Goodman band chanting in all likelihood the words for “Flat Foot Floogie,” August 1938, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. L-R: Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman, Ben Heller, Harry James, Bud Freeman, BG, Dave Matthews, Art Rollini. (*)

Tough plays the band on with a couple of bars of high-hat rhythm. Then the band members chant the jivey “lyric” as a prelude to the tune proper. Hear the brilliant brass, under Ziggy Elman’s swaggering lead, come blasting in on the introduction.The saxophones, led by Noni Bernardi, swing the melody, answered by the brass. Notice how Tough applies an aureole of cymbal sounds, using one of his crash cymbals, around the brass bursts. Otherwise, he just uses his high-hats to drive the rhythm, emphasizing beats 2 and 4.The brass then steps out relaxedly with the melody on the tune’s bridge.The saxophones finish the first chorus as before.

BG starts the second chorus, and plays an inspired, swinging 16-bar solo on clarinet, supported by Tough’s Chinese cymbal, played in even fours, with tasty rim shot off beats. Tough’s playing unfortunately is somewhat under-recorded, probably because Benny wanted it that way. (BG never wanted attention to be drawn away from his clarinet.) Alto saxophonist Dave Matthews plays on the bridge. Behind him, Tough plays more heavily, using a modified back beat. This is followed by eight more bars of Benny and his clarinet on the main theme. (5)

Trumpeter Harry James (pictured at right – 1937), who always had great technique, and who was in a steady process of growth as a jazz soloist during his two years (1937 and 1938) with Goodman, plays next. By the time he recorded this solo, he had arrived at a point where he was playing not only spectacular trumpet, he was also playing compelling jazz. Here, he out-swaggers Ziggy Elman, who played the first trumpet part on this recording, and that’s saying something. James was now not only playing interesting notes in his jazz solos, he was shaping them, using glissandi, shakes, rips (and a superb half-valved note near the end of this solo), all while swinging like mad. James had completely absorbed the rhythmic lessons of swing, and was supported in this solo by Tough, who once again plays 4/4 rhythm on his Chinese cymbal, and rim shot off beats. It was obvious to everyone connected with the Goodman band that the 22 year-old Mr. James had a great future ahead of him.

After James’s solo, which was the climax of the performance, the band chants and swings their way out. Notice how Tough accompanies the band’s chanting by using his sticks on his closed high-hats, and then explodes some rim shots to cue the band back in for the finale.(6)

This is joyous, exuberant music which provides a great example of why Benny Goodman’s title “The King of Swing” was so apt.

(*) I must thank the indefatigable historian Loren Schoenberg for extracting the two photos of the Goodman band in action in 1938 from archived periodical materials.

(1) Tough later, in a 1938 interview with Paul Eduard Miller, said that he took courses at the Lewis Institute In Chicago, studying English literature. This has not been verified however.

(2) Most of the information contained in this synopsis of Dave Tough’s early life was taken from the 90 pages written by Harold S. Kaye for the publication Storyville covering Tough’s life from his birth until the spring of 1930. Mr. Kaye’s writing is quite good, and contains many details not only of Dave Tough’s life, but of the people and circumstances surrounding them. At times however, Mr. Kaye falls victim to focusing his attention on the forest rather than the trees, and he loses the thread of Tough’s story. (His description of Bud Freeman’s first encounter with a bidet in Paris while he was visiting Tough there is hilarious.) Nevertheless, his writing is the most authoritative and insightful about Tough’s life and personality that I have been able to find.

(3) White materials: January 26, 1938.

(4) For much more information about “Flat Foot Floogie,” check out this link: https://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/2017/07/13/flat-foot-floogie/

(5) Snippets of Goodman’s solo on this recording of “Flat Foot Floogie” later reemerged obliquely from Benny’s subconscious on his marvelous recording of Eddie Sauter’s original tune “Cocoanut Grove,” which was made on April 10, 1940.

(6) For an excellent explanation of what Dave Tough’s drumming was all about, listen to this interview of master drummer Mel Lewis, done by Loren Schoenberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGmSErT21kQ

The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael House, I have checked a very accurate online source of TD information, and find that you are correct. Dave Tough was away from the TD band for a time in July of 1937 and was temporarily replaced by Russ Isaacs, but he returned to the band for the balance of that year. I got my misinformation from an old TD discography that is incorrect. I have corrected the blog post. Many thanks for your “catch.”

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