Bar Beat

The Spicolis Revisit the '80s and Find Nothin' But a Good Time

The Spicolis: Brian Kelly, David Wolfe, Dave Nelson, Clay McClain and Juba Normand
The Spicolis: Brian Kelly, David Wolfe, Dave Nelson, Clay McClain and Juba Normand Photo by I Love That Photography
It’s a rainy Friday night and Dave Nelson—co-founder and bassist of ‘80s cover band the Spicolis—is standing outside the Bedrock Tavern in Cypress, northwest of Houston.

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Juba Normand at the Bedrock Tavern
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
A favored watering hole for locals, it’s set in a nondescript strip center off Grant Road right across the fancy-sounding suburb of Lakewood Estates. Fellow tenants include a Mexican restaurant, nail salon, liquor store and a dentist’s office.

“We’ve never played here before,” Nelson says. “We’ll see how it goes!”

Nelson needn’t have worried. The band’s 9 p.m.-1 a.m. stage time transports an enthusiastic and moving crowd mostly in their late 40s to mid-60s back to the “decade of decadence,” shedding 35-40 years off their psyches in the process.

Tonight, it’s the Bedrock Tavern for fewer than 100 patrons. Tomorrow night, the Spicolis have a private corporate gig at Moody Gardens in Galveston playing an ’80s Prom-themed event for over 500. Their packed calendar will also find them traversing to Kemah, Plantersville, Katy, Spring, Tomball, and back to Cypress, delivering nostalgia and nothin’ but a good time across the region.

The Spicolis origin story began when Nelson moved to Houston in 2000 after having played in different bands in his hometown of Boston (his accent is still considerable). A decade later, some coworkers at his job at Compaq who were also “hobby/weekend” players decided to form the original lineup of the Spicolis.

Many permutations followed, with Nelson as the only constant. The current lineup has been together since 2019 and includes Juba Normand (vocals), David Wolfe (guitar), Clay McClain (drums) and Brian Kelly (keyboards).

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At the Bedrock Tavern, Normand’s searing vocals are strong and expressive. Wolfe’s six string has him at various times morphing into and recreating the famous solos of the Edge, Neal Schon, Prince, Steve Stevens, Slash and Eddie Van Halen (who, as an audience member tells Normand after they play "Jump," would have turned 69 on this night). Kelly’s fluid synth keys—absolutely necessary for any ‘80s cover band—are prominent. And Nelson and McClain hold it all down with their foundation of rhythm.

“People want to hear a little bit of everything,” Normand says in a band pre-show interview. “You’ve got to switch to different styles.”

The Spicolis' usual set list stays within the rock/pop sounds of the era, skittering across familiar tunes by Journey, Van Halen, the Cars, Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, REO Speedwagon, U2, Huey Lewis, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Poison and Tom Petty.

But some of their best material flirts with new wave and alt rock anthems by The Cure, Modern English, Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil, the Fixx and Flock of Seagulls.

“The songs have gone over pretty well. Dave kind of has the feel for what the public wants to hear,” Kelly says. And they continue to add material. This night will see the debut of the Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” and Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.” And while he knows an audience will want to hear the most familiar tunes from their youth, the Spicolis will still slip in the occasional more obscure “B-side.”

“That’s more fun to us. But it’s hard to have a set going really well, then play a B-side, and see the room kind of die!” Nelson laughs. “I mean, love playing Elvis Costello. The crowd…not so much. Tears for Fears kind of does both, though.”
One longhaired patron—looking more like a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan—has been playing pool throughout the Spicolis’ set and bobs his head along as he sinks balls. When the band plays Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” he’s extra animated and sings along.

“I used to think these guys were gay!” he leans over and says, unprompted. “But look at me now!”

“As much as I may not want to play ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ for a while, you have to!” Nelson laughs. And indeed, when it comes up at the Bedrock, fans of Journey (or the Sopranos) make it one of the night’s biggest crowd engagement numbers.

Even more so when Normand jumps into the crowd and gives a number of audience members the chance to belt a couplet or two into his microphone while the rest of the group pumps along behind him.
The perception of cover bands (and, more granular, “tribute” bands who also attempt to dress like a certain group or of the era) has completely changed over the past couple of decades. At one time, they were often viewed as musicians who weren’t good enough to make their own music, simply copying records, or whose level of talent should have kept them in the garage.

That’s completely different now as Classic Rock, heavy metal, or ‘80s cover bands fill larger and larger venues. Audiences are hungry to hear live versions familiar tunes as many of the original bands and performers have broken up, are not touring, or died. And the competition is increasingly heavy.

Some of these groups even embark on national tours and/or release their own records, like the Yacht Rock Revue, Steel Panther, Rain (Beatles), Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), Killer Queen, The Australian Pink Floyd Show and Brit Floyd, or the all-female lineups in the Iron Maidens and Lez Zeppelin.

“But you still have to put out a quality product,” Kelly offers. “And it’s got to replicate the original recording as closely as possible. That’s what charges people up.”
“We don’t fake the songs as musicians. There’s a lot of work that goes into this. We’ve got to be solid, and we inspire each other as players,” McClain—who notes that the bandmembers are all also friends—says. “If something is not quite right, we’ll hear about it.”

Nelson adds “The audience for Classic Rock and the ‘80s music is huge. And TV shows like Glee are bringing in a younger generation. I mean, when the Doobie Brothers or Styx or Journey come around, they still fill the Woodlands Pavilion.”

Locally, package tours featuring several groups or performers are playing large venues like the Smart Financial Centre and even NRG Stadium. Never mind that these acts likely have not had a chart hit in decades.

Of course, for those Gen Xers who had cable, it’s nearly impossible to hear a song from the era without its accompanying video playing in their heads. The Spicolis have a small and unobtrusive video monitor in at the front of the stage.
Normand and Kelly have painstakingly edited hundreds of clips from ‘80s music videos, movies, TV shows, news coverage, and the occasional aerobics video that play on a loop during the show. It adds a fun and unobtrusive element to the experience. And I’m reminded that I sho’ nuff really need to watch The Last Dragon again.

The band briefly considered “dressing” ‘80s, but ultimately weighed in against it. “You know…we’re not 20 or 30 years old. We are from that ‘80s generation. We don’t want to look foolish!” Nelson laughs.

The only sartorial concessions to the decade this night are McClain’s white Miami Vice-style coat, Nelson's black-and-white checkered belt and Normand’s MTV tee under a red Hawaiian shirt and a Mike Reno-esque red headband.

The Spicolis use Texas Live Sound for most of their gigs, and Wolfe—the only member with a full-time career in music—works at Clear Lake Music Studios. Louisiana transplant Normand also pursues a solo career.
The Spicolis onstage at the Bedrock Tavern
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Nelson actually found his vocalist via a random video he’d seen on Facebook of Normand singing—of all things—Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” at a club’s open mic night.

Finally, the Spicolis take their name from Sean Penn’s immortal ‘80s stoner/surfer character from the era-defining film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the end montage, it’s noted that Spicoli saves Brooke Shields from drowning, gets a huge reward, and blows it all on hiring Van Halen to play his birthday party.

So, if Jeff Spicoli in 2024 tapped his namesake group for his birthday this year, what would be the first non Van Halen song they’d play?

“It would have to be something rocking!” McClain offers.

“’Rock of Ages’ by Def Leppard!” Kelly chimes in.

“Or something by Mötley Crüe. A California band,” Nelson adds.

“For Jeff Spicoli’s birthday party?” Normand sums up, his head cocked in consideration. “It can only be one thing. It’s got to be ‘Fight for Your Right to Party!’”

The Spicolis have several shows coming up in and around the Houston area. For more information, visit their website at You can also find them on Facebook at
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero