While the Gits were a band who made a strong impression with their music during their all too brief run, it was how the group suddenly ended that would come to dominate their story. Playing a unique and passionate fusion of first-era punk, hard rock, and streetwise blues, the Gits had a sound that set them apart from their peers in Seattle in the late '80s and early '90s, when the city was hip deep in the grunge explosion. The Gits also had a fearless and charismatic frontwoman in lead singer Mia Zapata, but just as the group seemed poised to move up to the next level of popular acceptance, the potential of both the Gits and Zapata were snuffed out when she was raped and murdered in the summer of 1993.
The Gits were formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1986, when Zapata, guitarist Joe Spleen (aka Andy Kessler), bassist Matt Dresdner, and drummer Steve Moriarty were all students at Antioch College. The band was initially known as "The Snivelling Little Rat Faced Gits," taken from a line from a Monty Python sketch, but before long, convenience won out and they shortened the name. In 1988, the Gits recorded a set of demos with the help of Ben London of Alcohol Funnycar; they would eventually see official release under the title Kings & Queens. In 1989, the Gits pulled up stakes and made their way to Seattle, Washington, where they squatted in an abandoned house where they lived and rehearsed. While the Gits' music was significantly different from that which defined the Pacific Northwest rock scene of the day, their forceful performances and Zapata's gifts as a vocalist and communicator won them a following among punk rockers, political activists, and renegade artists as well as discerning rock fans. In 1990, the Gits released their debut single, "Precious Blood" b/w "Seaweed" and "Kings & Queens," and after a pair of 45s in 1991, the band began work on their debut album, Frenching the Bully, which was released by C/Z Records in 1992.
Frenching the Bully received enthusiastic reviews and the band toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, booking their own shows without the help of a manager and performing overseas without official visas, relying on the help of independent musicians and squatters to make their way. The Gits' power as a live act, coupled with Frenching the Bully's success on college and independent radio, made them one of Seattle's most talked-about bands at a time when the success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden brought a remarkable amount of media attention to the city's music community. The Gits began work on their second album while their profile was on the rise and major labels were courting the group. The album was nearly complete when on July 7, 1993, Zapata was walking home from a night out with friends when she was raped and murdered; the singer was dead at the age of 27.
Zapata's murder initially polarized the Seattle music community, largely because police detectives initially focused on her friends and peers, believing she must have been killed by someone she knew. However, Zapata's surviving bandmates rallied, hiring a private detective to investigate the case, and the city's rock musicians showed solidarity with a series of benefit shows and albums that raised both money and awareness about the Zapata case, as well as inspiring new dialogue about issues of violence against women. Joan Jett, a fan of the Gits, played a handful of shows with Spleen, Dresdner, and Moriarty, and they would release an album titled Evil Stig -- "Gits Live" backwards. The band 7 Year Bitch paid homage to Zapata with their 1994 album Viva Zapata!, which included a song about her murder, "M.I.A." And several of Zapata's friends gathered to form Home Alive, a non-profit group offering self-defense instruction and support systems for women.
In 1994, the surviving members of the Gits completed the album they were working on in the summer of 1993, which was released by C/Z as Enter: The Conquering Chicken. The Gits would later release two albums of rare and unreleased material from their archives, and Spleen, Dresdner, and Moriarty would join forces for a new band, the Dancing French Liberals of '48. And in 2003, Seattle police initiated a "cold case" examination of the case that led to processing DNA evidence gathered at the time of the crime. A search for matching DNA led to Florida, where Jesus Mezquia had been arrested for burglary; research revealed that Mezquia was living in Seattle in July 1993, and in 2004, he was found guilty of Zapata's murder and sentenced to 36 years behind bars. In 2005, Zapata's life and the long search for justice became the subject of a documentary film by director Kerri O'Kane, simply titled The Gits. ~ Mark Deming