Red Deer musician Mike Szabo first wrote songs about COVID — and then was hit hard by the virus.
“I’ve wondered what the footnotes might say if I died from it,” said the singer/songwriter, who feels fortunate to have made a full recovery from the coronavirus earlier this month.
One of his pandemic-inspired songs, Let Me In, will be on the new four-song EP that he’s currently recording for release to online streaming services later this summer.
He’s thrilled to work on this project with local singer/songwriter Curtis Phagoo and “some stellar local musicians.”
Although Szabo wrote about 60 tunes since making his 2020 debut album Take My Heart, the four he’s chosen for his new EP “are all very close to the heart for me.”
These are songs about life’s journey, addiction, Szabo’s love for Alberta, “the great province where I’ve lived my whole life” — and vaccines.
“Yup, I said vaccinations,” added Szabo, who’s fully aware of the perilous waters he’s treading in the wake of pandemic polarization.
But having had COVID, the 63-year-old knows it wasn’t easy to overcome. “It kicked my butt,” admitted the singer, who’s very glad to have been vaccinated.
He wrote Let Me In in reaction to derisive opinions he saw expressed on social media against COVID prevention protocols. “I felt I was doing the right thing by following the guidelines with masking and vaccinations and here I was getting some flack for it…”
While the past few years have been troubling for the world, Szabo experienced a few personal bright spots that made him realize he’s on the right track in deciding to make music a priority at age 58, after spending many years in RV sales.
One of his most memorable moments was playing at Bo’s Bar and Stage with fellow musicians Phagoo, Levi Cuss and Ryon Holmedal last November, during a brief window before between pandemic lockdowns.
At the start of this show, he recalled, they were told everything was about to shut down again because of COVID. “We understood the gift we’d been given, the opportunity to play one more time.”
Szabo’s most optimistic moment of 2021? When he married his “biggest fan, sounding board and muse,” Katy Grant, last summer.
He experienced another rush earlier this year while performing with his daughter Elyse, as Dos Szabos in January. The pair will reunite as an on-stage duo this fall for the Red Hart Brewing Company’s singer/songwriter series in Red Deer.
Szabo said he looks forward to having more opportunities to play in 2022. So far, he has a a July 9 show from 3 to 5 p.m. on the Hideout patio and is waiting for other date confirmations.
Looking back at his past as a “campfire singer,” he feels he’s now found his voice with having so many of his own original tunes to perform.
“That freedom allows the emotions to be authentic… when I see and feel tears in the audience, then I know the songs connect in the most meaningful way.”
One of his most popular songs is A Bitter Taste. It was written in response to the provincial government’s rescinding of the coal policies — “an act they did, unbeknownst to Albertans, and one they denied until they couldn’t,” said Szabo.
Another tune, My Canada, expresses his feelings about Indigenous residential schools. “My wish for truth and peace is a common thread in many of my songs. You just can’t keep an old hippie down I guess.”
His newest song, Starlight, is a lullaby about world peace. “Imagine such a thing,” he added.