The “genie in the bottle” is now out for Mike Szabo, who gave up a quarter-century in RV sales to follow his dreams to become a singer/songwriter and musician.
The 61-year-old Red Deer performer reflected, “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a song rolling through my head…”
Yet from 1996 to 2017, Szabo was in sales at Woody’s RV World, instead of listening to his muse.
Selling RVs was a “wonderful career,” he recalled — but a long way from his adolescent dreams.
The Winnipeg-born, Calgary-raised Szabo had given music a brief shot as a teenager with a band tryout that turned out to be “a disaster.”
When a talent contest became an even worse experience, Szabo decided to push his artistic aspirations aside.
“I was content to just play alone or with close friends, preferably around a campfire.”
He followed a rather shiftless career path to Red Deer in 1989.
“I think I had the mind of a musician, but was trying to fit into a more linear world,” he said.
“It always felt like a struggle, even when things were going well in my life…”
By 1996, he had a mortgage and a young family — but no job.
“That’s when my neighbour knocked on my door and asked me if I might go work for him at Woody’s RV World.”
Szabo spent the next 24 years enjoying his sales job and feeling quite fortunate.
“I learned so much about humans … just how very different we all are. I learned how impossible it should be for all of us to move in one direction, yet we still strive for that.”
But then his family situation changed in 2016, leaving Szabo ruminating about what he really wanted from life.
A year later — at the ripe age of 58 — he resolved to focus on music.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew I had to try,” Szabo said.
One of his biggest cheerleaders was his nephew, Justin, “a truly incredible musician” who invited Szabo to come and play with him. They eventually formed the duo Woodstuck.
“I started to go to open mics to get some practice,” Szabo said — and he hasn’t looked back.
His music career has gradually been lifting off with performances around the province — including at Calgary’s Ironwood Stage and Grill and Bo’s in Red Deer.
Szabo just released his first album to various online platforms. Take My Heart is made up of personal songs, including one started in 2010, about one of his daughters.
“I found myself in the garage and there was a notebook and pen there. I wrote out my feelings at that moment and it became obvious to me that I was writing a song…”
Other tunes on his new Canadiana-to-country album came as an outpouring over the last year or so.
“I can’t explain it, other than it’s been in there all along, and I guess I’ve been saving it up…
“The genie’s out of the bottle so to speak,” said Szabo, who hopes his music gets people “to think and to feel deeply.”
Public feedback has so far been “fantastic” — especially for A Song for Everyone, the first single, which has a video posted to YouTube.
“To have it touch people the way it has, is more than I could have hoped for,” Szabo said.
As for others who are thinking about making major career changes — including some central Albertans who may have been squeezed out of jobs by the pandemic — Szabo would advise them to try hard to believe in themselves.
“Even if you don’t, try to be with people who do believe in you — it might just rub off, as it did for me.”