Charles Connor, Drummer for Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and James Brown, Dies at 86

Charles Connor, best known as a drummer for Little Richard in his 1950s heyday, and decades later later a familiar sight to L.A. radio veterans as a security guard at KROQ, died Saturday at age 86.

His daughter, Queenie Connor Sonnefeld, told the Associated Press he died peacefully in his sleep while under hospice care for normal pressure hydrocephalus in Glendale, Calif.

Connor established the “choo choo” style of drumming heard throughout “Keep a Knockin’,” one of the most instrumentally influential songs in rock history. He was seen performing with Little Richard as a member of his backup band, the Upsetters, in the seminal rock ‘n’ roll movies “The Girl Can’t Help It,” “Mister Rock and Roll” and “Don’t Knock the Rock.”

After Little Richard quit rock ‘n’ roll — for the first of several times — to join the ministry in the early ’60s, Connor went to work for Sam Cooke and James Brown. Other artists he performed with included Jackie Wilson, the Coasters, Lloyd Price, “Big” Joe Turner, “Champion” Jack Dupree, Larry Williams, Don Covay, “Papa” George Lightfoot and Larry Birdsong.

Later in life, he went to work at the headquarters of KROQ. “Every day I went in the studio, I’d ask Charles for a story,” said longtime KROQ air personality Kat Corbett, about “growing up in New Orleans, what it was like for Black musicians playing for white audiences, the ladies… oh, he loved the ladies. He was truly one of a kind.”

Connor was also invited on the air at KROQ, coming on with DJs Stryker & Klein to discuss his experiences in 2020.

Last year Connor took to Twitter to post a video he’d come across of himself sitting in with Little Richard to play “The Girl Can’t Help It” at a gig in 1990, noting it was the first time they’d played together since the late ’50s.

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SOURCE: Variety, Chris Willman