A son of affluent Oak Park, Illinois parents, Tough's interest for drumming was not fully supported by his family or community. Fortunately his suburban Chicago home allowed Tough to find his way to southside Chicago exposing him to an exciting and evolving jazz scene. Here Tough broke cultural and musical boundaries taking the scene's fresh sense back to a seemingly different suburban upper- middle class world.
He worked with such musicians as Bud Freeman, Woody Herman, Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Red Norvo, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman. Berendt describes him as one of the most subtle and inspired of drummers with a rhythmic palette on which he held in readiness the right colour for each soloist.
In the later 1920s, Tough floated between Nice and Paris doing free-lance work. Overseas he worked loosely with George Carhart and while in Paris sessioned extensively with Mezz Mezzrow. He toured and recorded throughout early 1930s Europe, mostly on the Tri-Ergon label. Though without official record, Tough spent portions of 1942-44 in the Navy playing behind Shaw's Naval Band.
Due to Tough's rich cultural experiences, his broad musical awareness provided an ability to transition well between many musical styles, most notably Big Band to Bebop.
Tough was to lead only one album, a small sided release by the Jamboree label. Although he had varied successes, he also had noteworthy difficulties with alcoholism and illness. He died of a head injury after falling down in a Newark street.