Hot Peas ‘N Butter may sound like a yummy dish, but it’s actually the name of one of the top kids’ bands today. Best friends since high school, Frank Cotto and Danny Lapidus bring warmth, excitement and fine quality music to both kids and parents alike. Celebrity Parents met up with the duo to discuss educating children’s musical palates, how the band got its name (it’s a doozy of a story) and why they are truly two peas in a pod.
How did you two meet?
Danny: We both went to the High School for Performing Arts together.
Oh, the Fame school!
Frank: We used to dance on the tables…
Sing out in the street.
Danny: Right. [laughs] I played sax and clarinet and Frank played bass.
Frank: I was a classical guitarist. I went to the Jazz Conservatory, and played for many years. Danny and I always wanted to work together; it was a natural progression for us.
Danny: My father taught me how to play guitar. He was a great bluegrass guitar player. His best friend was Professor Louie, who is an amazing singer and performer. He truly inspired us. We saw that this was something that we could do together that would be a lot of fun.
It’s interesting that neither one of you had children before you began to play kids’ music.
Frank: We were committed to children’s music before we had kids! The first time we played together for kids was a great experience. Danny needed someone to come play, and I showed up at the school and played my conga. There were disabled kids there, and towards the end of the show, I saw a Para who was crying. I thought, “Did we do something wrong?” She came up to us after the show and told us that one of the kids there hadn’t spoken or really moved in a week. During our show, he started moving and clapping, and she was so happy. It was at that point that I thought, “We might have something here.” That was the spark.
Danny: From the very first gig, I realized that this is much more satisfying to me than anything else. And at that point, we didn’t even have a name yet.
How did you come up with the name?
Frank: When I was a kid in the Bronx, we played a game called Hot Peas N Butter. There was a belt-
Frank: Yeah, it was a little bit of a rough game! One of the kids would hide the belt, and the object of the game was to be the first kid to find the belt. If you were close, you were hot and if you were further away, you were cold. The kid hiding the belt would yell, “Hot peas ‘n butter! Come and get your supper!” Now, if two kids were hot, then it would get scary, because you had to be the first one to get to that belt. Once you got the belt, the object was to hit the kids before they got back to Base.
With the belt.
Danny: It’s like Capture the Flag.
But with a belt. [laughs]
Frank: Didn’t you play that in Queens?
No! I’m sorry I asked the question! [laughing]
Danny: Once he told me about the game, that was it. I loved the name.
Now, the $64,000 question is: Do you guys like peas?
Danny: I put them into many of my dishes. I have a 14 month-old son, so I like it with a little water and nuked! I also like them in pasta.
Frank: I like to eat hot peas with butter! [laughs] Seriously, my wife makes a great arroz con gandules.
How has the music changed over the years?
Frank: Sometimes when we play, it might be the two of us. Other times, it can be as big as sixteen band members. We might have dancers, depending on the music. We’ve had a capoeira dancer, an African dancer, too. We sing in many languages, and we try to incorporate dance from that country into the shows.
Danny: In the beginning, we concentrated on traditional folk music. Let me tell you; it’s not easy to write children’s music. It’s simple but it’s deep. As time has gone on, we’ve begun to write more of our own music.
Frank: I’ve written stuff for adults. Miles Davis put it best: The hardest thing to conquer in music is simplicity. It’s got to be good both for the parents and the kids to enjoy. Parents have complimented us, saying they enjoy the music as much as their kids.
Danny: Our music is more music for the whole family, from the abuela right down to the little ones.
How do you find the experience of performing for kids?
Danny: I don’t think Miles would play to a crowd where the audience might cry, get up and walk away! Kids are really an honest audience. I used to write — and still do — write really depressing adult rock and roll music! [laughs] Playing my adult music at midnight on a Tuesday means a lot to me. But then playing to a crowd that’s so joyous, happy and energetic, that’s amazing. They’re going nuts and vibing with me. There’s a time and place for all music.
Frank: I like to play to both. I toured the country for eight years playing with an R&B funk rock extravaganza! Touring the country, sitting cramped in a van for 20 hours is tough. I love doing both, though. What I love about the kids stuff is that I get to be more animated. I embrace it; we do gags and we get the kids involved. I get to express that fun side of myself that I’m not able to do anywhere else.
Let’s talk about your CD’s. You’ve released 5 so far.
Danny: Our last CD, Best of the Bowl, is bilingual. It has been our bestseller to date. Many teachers love it; they’ve told us they use it in their classrooms to help teach Spanish.
Frank: We also had famed cuatro player Yomo Toro on the last CD, which was incredible. Kids like good stuff. And if you feed them good stuff, then they will get to like it.
Danny: Like peas! [laughs] Musically, you want to raise that bar as high as you can.
Are your kids involved in the music, too?
Frank: My son Danny is 12 and he’s more an athlete than a musician, although he plays the conga very well. He’s performed with us onstage, and he likes to hang out with the band afterwards! [laughs] When we’ve played shows, he’ll give us notes. He’ll say, “You missed that” or “You should have done that.”
Is he on point?
Frank: He is!
Danny: I have a little girl, Lily Ana, who is 5, and a son, Ike, 14 months. They come to the shows. Lily is such a cheerleader of our music. She knows every word. When I mix the record, she’s right there, and I bounce it off of her, to see how she vibes with it. Ike, on the other hand, sometimes falls asleep during the shows, but I don’t take offense!
And you mentioned when we were shooting that your wives also sing on the records.
Danny: My wife is a terrific singer. She has sung on 3 or 4 of the records. She sang a lead, too.
Frank: My wife’s voice sounds like a kid, so we use her often for the children’s voices!
Let’s talk about what you have coming up.
Danny: We have two records coming out in April, which are re-releases of the first two CD’s. They will be available all over, from Borders to Barnes & Nobles. We’re also playing a lot of shows this year. It’s a great time for us. I’m so thankful that I can do what I love, and with my boy over here. You can truly do what you set out to do in life and be happy.
Frank: To be able to play music is a blessing. It never gets boring; it’s always fun. Our vibe comes through in our music, and that’s why we are where we are today. And to be able to do it with my best friend is icing on the cake.