MARQUETTE - Keith Polkinghorne and Jerry Kippola have been friends for many years.
When Polkinghorne retired after a 30-plus year career teaching music, he knew he would make Marquette his new home and once he got here, he wanted to get together with his old friend to form a musical group.
That was the genesis of Shotgun Kelli and State 51, a country-rock-pop band that's catching the ear of music fans around the region.
From left, Gene Uuro, Keith Polkinghorne and Kelli Polkinghorne of Shotgun Kelli and State 51 perform at the Intertnational Food Fest in Marquette on July 2. The band has been together for about a year. (Journal photos by Renee Prusi)
Polkinghorne, who grew up in Mohawk, was fascinated by music from a young age and knew from the time he was in junior high he wanted to be a music teacher.
"John Lehto was my music teacher and I wanted to be just like him," Polkinghorne said. Throughout his years as a student in the Calumet schools, Polkinghorne participated in band and choir. Then he attended Northern Michigan University, majoring in music and playing in bands, including the Wayfarers, Top Notch and Fahrenheit, that were the house group at the Holiday Inn in Marquette.
He went on to teach at Manistique for seven years then in Hurley, Wis., for 25 years, but kept playing music with his college chum, Kippola.
State of the State 51:
SHOTGUN KELLI AND STATE 51
on the web:
Keith Polkinghorne, bass
Paul Quello, drums
Kelli Polkinghorne, vocals
Jerry Kippola, guitar, steel guitars
Gene Uuro, guitar
"Through the years, we got together," Polkinghorne said. "We did things like being with the opening act for Willie Nelson when he played in Ironwood. We played with Robin Lee, a country artist, as the opener.
"We were talking about putting a band together. Jerry's a great pedal steel player," said Polkinghorne, who plays bass. "Jerry told me he'd like a girl singer in the band and I told him 'have I got the gal for you.' Jerry took it on faith I had the right girl in mind."
That girl was Polkinghorne's daughter, Kelli, who now is the singer for the band.
"I have been singing forever," she said. "I started gigging when I was 17 or 18. My Dad would let my sister (Katie) sing with his band. It was great."
A music education major at NMU, Kelli is loving her current band.
"The best part if the musicians I get to be around. These guys are so talented," Kelli said. "They know what they are doing. I am truly so lucky to be in a group with these guys. I love them."
Keith Polkinghorne made another recommendation to Kippola for the band.
"I told Jerry that my brother was in town and he's a drummer," Polkinghorne said. "I told him Paul was ready to lock and load and Jerry said, 'let's bring him on board.'"
Quello, who also grew up in Mohawk, said music was important to his life for as long as he remembers. He's 15 years younger than Keith.
"From the time I was 5 years old, my parents took me to see Keith play," Quello said. "And Keith bough me my first real drum set when I was 5. That's where I started."
Quello played in bands since he was 18, including one called Sessions that formed in 1991. Sessions still plays on occasion.
In 2002, Quello moved from Petoskey to Marquette, working for Sam Goody at the time, then taking a job at Crossroads Mini-Mart.
"Playing with these four other musicians is the best part," Quello said. "I have the greatest respect for all of them, musically and as people. I know people in other bands who have to deal with drama and tension. But these are great people with great attitudes."
Kippola, a native of downstate Plymouth, moved to the Upper Peninsula in 1970 and has played in more than 40 bands since. He, too, is enjoying working with the other members of Shotgun Kelli.
"It has been a blast," Kippola said. "When you play with the right people, it's a lot of fun."
Playing at places like the Porterfield (Wis.) Music Festival has been gratifying, Kippola said.
"We did that about a month ago and we got a great response down there," he said. "It has been an invigorating thing. We've gotten a lot of positive comments."
Gene Uuro, an Ishpeming native who plays guitar in Shotgun Kelli, also enjoys the band.
"The people in it are the best part," said Uuro, who has also played in such bands as Kickback, Escape and Black Horse. "With bands, personalities need to work together. This group has a good attitude and works well together."
While newer country is its focus, Shotgun Kelli doesn't follow strict musical boundaries.
"The people in this group are versatile," Uuro said. "They have played everything, jazz, country, rock, pop, blues. That makes it fun."
About the name: Where did it come from?
"We had started off as Mason Dixon," Kelli said. "But we were not keen on the name. My uncle came to practice one day after watching The History Channel. They had a special on old gangsters and there was one called Pistol Kelly. My uncle said, 'Shotgun Kelli, wouldn't that be great?' and that's what we became. So we got our name from The History Channel."
The State 51 portion of the band's name came from Kippola.
"That's my part of it," Kippola said. "Back in the 1990s, I had a band that was named that and I always wanted to get that name back."
Thus Shotgun Kelli and State 51.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.