SIOUX CITY | Looking through an old notebook, Mike Langley recited lyrics to a song he had written.

"Lovers' lane, lovers' lane, take a dead end road up lovers' lane/Who'll complain but the wind and the rain/I can almost the music playin' on lovers' lane."

Spooky stuff, right? 

Well, that's exactly the way Langley, a veteran Sioux City-based singer-songwriter, likes it.

"There's a long tradition of writing songs about life, death and the hereafter," the 2012 Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association (IRRMA) Hall of Fame inductee explained. "It's fun to imagine what the unknown is like and it gives license for writers to be as creative as they can be."

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal
From left, Walt Peterson and Mike Langley of the band Groovediggers aren't afraid of ghosts. Peterson is a caretaker for a Sioux City cemetery while Langley, a 2012 Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Hall of Famer, frequently sings about "death, burial and murder."

More than a decade ago, Langley formed a musical group called the Groovediggers with Bob Larson, Jamie Bowers and Walt Peterson, who just happens to be the caretaker for a Sioux City cemetery.

"I don't know if it was my idea or Mike's idea to start singing about death, dying and spirituality," Peterson, a singer who also plays the mandolin and harmonica, said. "But The Groovediggers have never run out of material, that's for sure."

It helps that Langley is especially prolific in writing songs with otherworldly themes.

In addition to "Lovers' Lane," he has written such evocatively named ditties like "Let Me Fly," "Goodbye at the Gates of the Graveyard" as well as the recently recorded "Keeper of the Dead."

"I'm not the Reaper, I'm not the Creeper, I'm the keeper of the sleepers, of the never-make-a-peepers/I'm not the weeper, I'm the Keeper of the Dead," Langley sang.

"Now, that's poetry," Peterson said.

The Groovediggers also sing cover songs like John Prine's "Please Don't Bury Me" and Don Chapel's "When the Grass Grows Over Me," as well as traditional songs like "Barbara Allan" and "The Wind and the Rain."

"Mike is good at discovering more recent songs dealing with death," Peterson said. "Me? I'm more likely to uncover some obscure song from the 15th century."

Which is fine by Langley, who acknowledged older songs often have a tinge of sadness in them.

"When you're writing a song, you're telling a story and when you're singing a song, you become a storyteller," he said. "Centuries ago, when things were much tougher, death was just a way of life."

Indeed, a physical death would release a person from pain and set him on a heavenly path.

This all sounds nice but the Groovediggers aren't opposed to telling a good ghost when the mood suits them.

Langley will doing a concert devoted solely to "Ghost Songs" at 7 p.m. Oct. 31 at Cargill Auditorium on the Western Iowa Tech Community College, 4647 Stone Ave.

"We're billing it as a bubbling brew of specters, spirits graveyard musings," he explained. 

If it sounds like Langley and Peterson are taking a lighthearted attitude about death, then you're getting the picture.

"By singing about death, we're taking some of the sting away," Langley said. 

Peterson said one of his favorite songs is "Gravedigger," a Langley composition in which additional lyrics are appropriate.

"We've included special lyrics about Jerry Kessler (a Sioux City musician who died in 2011) as well as Mike's brother (Jon Langley, a musician who died in 1999)," Peterson said.

Langley said such songs allow us to remember those who have passed away.

"Who said we always have to be afraid of ghosts?"

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