Fred Gruber on Dave Tough: ‘I Have a Great Love for this Man’


Freddie Gruber

SKF NOTE: Excerpted from my interview with Freddie Gruber in late 1983 or early 1984. This is an instance where I recommended a drummer have a feature interview and the rest of the Modern Drummer editorial staff outvoted me. That means much of this interview was never published, while some of it was published as an MD Focus on Teachers interview. 

This exchange took place at Buddy Rich‘s kitchen table in Buddy’s New York City apartment. Buddy was not present. In this part of the interview Freddie and I were talking about drummers he met during his lifetime. Freddie had just finished talking about Big Sid Catlett. I asked Freddie next about Dave Tough. Freddie’s whole demeanor changed. He became very reflective.

Dave Tough had a major impact on Freddie. Part of me was wishing Freddie would share specifics of his time with Dave Tough. Maybe what Mr. Tough said could help others. But the greater part of me respected Freddie enough not to pry.

Still, this Gruber/Tough exchange is one moment from all of my drummer interviews I have thought about many times since.

Scott K Fish: How about Dave Tough?

Freddie Gruber: Extraordinary! Extraordinary with a band. His feel. His ability to be sympathetic to the arrangements, to play with a band.

I mean, as a teacher, what is it you can say about Dave Tough that’s not really good? He exemplifies what you should really do with a band. And I’m sure if you took the time to interview all the great big band drummers of toay, I can’t imagine in my right mind any one of them not saying how really marvelous the magic – the magic – of Dave Tough was.

He was only unsung to a degree. Not within the confines of the business or any conscious drummer. But, unsung to the public because Gene Krupa brought the attention and focus….

SKF: Because [Dave Tough] wasn’t a soloist?

FG: It isn’t just that. Gene had such an ability to bring attention to himself. In fact, he did that for drummers.

I did an interview recently, somewhat of a documentary of Gene, and I’ll say exactly what I said at that time: Gene Krupa alone was solely responsible for bringing attention to the drummer and his role within the orchestra to the world at large! He alone did that. More than anything, Gene brought focus and attention to the drummer. Not to take away from his validity as a drummer and what he did as a drummer.

SKF: Did Dave Tough ever speak to you about his own approach to the drumset?


Dave Tough

FG: This is, more or less, personal. I did get to meet Dave on more than a casual level during the very last years of his life. In fact, almost down to the last moments.

I found him to be, throughout a lifetime of knowing drummers, probably — possibly — the most sensitive; certainly one of the more intellectual, as a man, of all the drummers I ever knew. And it was displayed in his sympathetic playing with an orchestra.

But, when I speak of him I really have real strong feelings because I was privileged enough for him — in a special situation which I’d rather not elaborate on — for him to say some things to me at a very young age…. He may or may not have spotted some things in my personality. And he was trying to tell me something, at a very young age, as to some of the pitfalls of the business and the industry. And [telling me] to look out for certain things.

He really said some petinent things to me which I think I was to young to hear in perspective. I did hear what he was saying. But not in perspective. I was in my teens. I wish he could have stenciled them into my head.

But, for him to have said some of the things that he said to me showed, in general, the kind of man he was and how concerned a person — that’s it! — He was a concerned man in general. Sensitive.

I could go on for another hour about how I feel during the short period of time that I was privileged enough to get close enough to have some conversations with [Dave Tough] at that last period of his life. His concern.

And I don’t think I was that special. I think he would have been that way with almost anyone. He said some nice things to me. He said if I handled things correctly, maybe some nice things would happen.

Now, in retrospect, I see that I have a great love for this man. I think the keynote word for a man like Dave is: special. Not just from the standpoint of another accomplished drummer in the industry who makes [an] impact by virtue of the amounts of money he’s earned, by the amount of notoriety he receives, by all the applause he gets from the fans he has, and from all the other things that go along with th ends of the business that you already know about.

I’m talking again about something that goes with that word special that has nothing to do with — you have to pardon my expression — bullshit. Everything was real.


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