Firkins grew up favoring the likes of AC/DC, Judas Priest and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but his first exposure to music was through his parents, a lap steel guitarist and a classical pianist respectively. His father presented Michael with his first guitar when he was just eight years old - and the rest, as they say, is history. Although his tastes gravitated towards hard rock, the young Firkins was always open-minded about other genres, and reflects, “no matter what it was, if I liked it, I liked it.”
With a healthy dose of country-style guitar as part of his education, when Firkins heard Eddie Van Halen’s finger-picking interludes he began to see the potential for some stylistic innovations which have subsequently garnered him endless accolades. Throw in a fondness for jazz and a deep appreciation for the blues, and you have one of the most versatile guitar instrumentalists of the modern era. As early as 1990, when his self-titled debut was released, Firkins was named ‘best new talent’ alongside Eric Johnson by Guitar Player magazine, while more recently Guitarist magazine called him ‘one of the most influential players of the next ten years.’ Not only that, the album won an Edison Award in Holland, the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy.
The guitarist admits that he signed to Shrapnel because it was the logical thing for any reader of Guitar Player magazine to do - you sent Mike Varney a tape, he signed you, you released a record. But as unfamiliar as he was with the actual records Shrapnel had released - he had read the stories, but not heard the records - his own recordings set him apart from the ranks of guitar instrumentalists with his versatility, and when the guitarist re-emerged with Chapter 11 in 1995, he again rocked critics and fans alike back on their heels. While other guitar instrumentalists were striving for speed and bluster, Firkins was liberally scattering his new record with the sound of a steel guitar, successfully mimicked with a crafty right-hand technique, and then adding fluent finger picking to further emphasize his distance from traditional shredders. And as if that wasn’t enough, Firkins’ fondness for swing jazz also found an outlet on the record.
A year later came Cactus Cruz and a renewed emphasis on the rock side of Firkins’ playing, but the country and jazz flavors remained. A year later Firkins was featured on the Japanese (JVC) release Guitar Battle, with five top players working up a storm on Weather Report’s “Birdland.” These efforts, combined with a live European release (Provogue) recorded during the Jimi Hendrix Music Festival, featured Firkins alongside blues favorites Walter Trout and Popa Chubby. Around the same time Firkins was also contributing a great deal of personal and professional involvement to Jason Becker’s album Perspective, and guested at the benefit show in Chicago that was put together for the former David Lee Roth guitarist after he was stricken with ALS.
2002 finds Firkins on a new label, Nuerra Records, but his refusal to be categorized hasn’t changed. Prior to his days as a guitar instrumentalist Firkins played in cover bands, but struck out on his own after getting thoroughly tired of playing other people’s songs - but sufficient time has passed, and Decomposition is a wide-ranging collection of covers of tunes both well-known and obscure. Mostly rock-oriented, this record marks the first time Firkins has worked with a singer for many years, and Sonny Reece is certainly quite a find, as evidenced in particular by his reading of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “I Need You” and the Derringer/Winter classic “Still Alive and Well.” Tasteful rather than flamboyant, Firkins’ playing is more fluent and evocative than ever before, highlighted by a powerful cover of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and a deft run through Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme, which successfully captures the humor of the original without turning it into a joke. The one original track on the record, a beautiful guitar soundscape called “The Window,” is actually a seven-year-old composition put together as a calling card for Robert Plant, during which time the legendary singer was looking for a new guitarist. Alongside the cover of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” this is Firkins' favorite track on the record, and actually getting it there involved a lengthy process the night before mixing was to begin of locating and renting the same model of archaic tape machine that it had been recorded on so that it could be included.
Altogether, Decomposition is a remarkably mature record from a strikingly
individual guitar player, whose refusal to be categorized may have hampered
his rise to the top, but will certainly ensure that, once there, he will
not easily be dislodged. And with the wide-ranging strengths of this album,
it may just be the record to put him there.