June 13, 2024

Target Video History

Hearing a band for the first time could change your life. Seeing a band play live for the first time takes it to a different level—seeing them in motion, the incredible energy of the band, the crowd interacting. Before the internet, if a band didn’t put a photo on the album, you might have not even known what they looked like until you saw them live. And for punk rock in the ’70s and ’80s, you had better live near a city where the bands lived or had a club that would accept the transgressive scene.

Video does not replace the power of a live show, but for those of us who lived away from both coasts in the ’80s, Target Video saved us. Target Video was at the vanguard of releasing a barrage punk VHS releases—the bleeding edge of technology at the time—in the decade of Reagan. These tapes were incredible documents of first and second wave punk bands playing live. The footage of those early bands playing also showed us the first West Coast venues, what the early crowds looked and acted like—with the lack of a dress code and no separation from the band or stage. Some of the most unusual punk shows ever were captured on early, raw video by Target: Crime playing at San Quentin State Prison, The Mutants playing at a school for deaf children, The Cramps playing at a mental hospital, the first performances of Survival Research Laboratories, and both live and studio performances of The Screamers, who would only release video and no vinyl during their time.

Due to the undeniable and enduring impact of these videos, over the past few years we’ ve been producing documentary projects on Target Video. We’ve compiled this origin story through multiple interviews, from their very beginning through the Napa State show on June 13, 1978, learning who and what was behind these essential punk videos. Leading up to meeting the three co-founders in person, we knew they operated in the Bay Area starting in the ’70s, living in affordable warehouses in Oakland, then San Francisco. Their second and third spaces also doubled as studios to videotape bands performing for the camera. Joe Rees was the man behind the camera, also producing, directing, and editing the videos. Jill Hoffman helped produce the videos and took still photos. Sam Edwards was the “technician.” We heard they came out of art school with some of the first video technology as local friends were starting bands.

Our short documentary film focusing on the story of when The Mutants and The Cramps played Napa State (titled We Were There to Be There, inspired by a great comment by Jill) was made in 2021 and is coming out on Blu-ray, along with the original tapes and lost footage not found until  2022, all remastered by Dino Everett at the Punk Media Research Collection, University of Southern California, HMH Foundation Moving Image Archive.

Introduction by Mike Plante and Jason Willis
Original interviews conducted by Mike Plante and Jason Willis,
color photos by Jill Hoffman-Kowal
B&W photos by Ruby Ray
The Mutants at Napa State, from the remastered tape
Poison Ivy of The Cramps, from the remastered tape

Co-founder, director, producer, camera operator, editor

Joe: My thing started growing up on a farm in Iowa. I was raised by my grandparents. They were already elderly people when they took me and my brother. My grandfather was disabled and he couldn’t do farm chores. So at eleven or twelve-years-old, that was my job. I grew up real fast in that sense. All that hard work of taking care of livestock, bailing hay, doing all those farm chores. I did not want to do that. [laughs] I fell in love with rock’n’roll music. A wonderful thing in the Midwest. It was about the only thing that saved your life—that great sound coming out of all these powerful radio stations from the South and the East.

Mike: When you start putting out the Target VHS tapes in the 1980s, we were in high school and they saved us. We knew the bands but seeing them on video was so key to understanding the scene—to see the bands and the audience and venues in action. It sounds like the radio stations were similar for you?

Joe: Yeah it was the radio stations and, man, I was glued to them. I got one of those little portable transistor radios in those days. I finagled one and I used to take that everywhere. Even when I was milking the cow in the barn, I would have that going. I had a guitar and I used to stand in front of my mirror in my bedroom and practice all the time thinking, “My day is coming. Right?” I mean, when you’re ten, eleven years old, why not? [laughs] At least the cows could listen to me.

Jason: How did the art start?

Joe: Everyone had something in school. I could draw like crazy. You give me a pencil, I could sit down, look at something, and render it. And I was obsessed… It became a real big deal in my life because it gave me kind of a recognition and status. I would get some response from my peer group. And everybody wants that. I grew up in a Catholic school and I did not get along with the nuns at all, ’cause my hair was too long and I always combed it in the rebel rouser way, you know?

I even had the art teacher defending me, because I had this talent. It just encouraged me to continue what I was doing. So my dream at that point was, as soon as I could graduate from high school, I was going to find some way of getting some formal training. There were some free classes at the local art museum, simple things—colors and drawing and stuff like that—that they were offering in the summertime. My grandmother saw that this was something I was really good at. So she basically went against my grandfather’s wishes and hid me in the car, snuck me out from the farm down to these classes downtown at the museum.

a band is performing a song on stage

Co-founder, co-producer, photographer

Jill: When I was a teenager, I listened to a lot of music. I moved to Los Angeles when I was ten and I went to see the Beatles twice. I saw Jimi Hendrix. I saw Janis Joplin. I saw Cream. I was always listening to music, but the music that was going on in the scene was reflecting what was happening at the time. And I was really into what was going on at the time. I was very into the culture of my generation. What got me through high school were my art classes and gymnastics. I got a good grade point average which got me into art school. So I left Los Angeles because I got accepted into California College of Arts and Crafts up in Oakland. That’s where the true inspiration and mind-altering events took place, in my college years.

Co-founder, technician

Sam: My mother was a painter, so I learned to do artwork right at her knee. She gave me my first brushes and a little canvas to work on. It introduced me to artwork and I just kept doing art and poetry. And when I got older, I started to question, “How can I keep doing this?” Well, my dad was a plumber. He was in construction. So I got a whole second education into three-dimensional skills. Soldering and welding and cutting steel and stuff. Using pipe cutters and polishing the inside of copper elbows and T’s. He said, “You know, if I die and I can’t get out of this ditch, just throw some dirt on top of me. Being underground and buried holds no fear for me. I spent so many hours of my life down underground in the dirt; just bury me with this pipe.” He may have been just joking, but it was tough for him. As I got out of painting, I started doing sculpture and then that’s when I met Joe and he was doing sculpture.

Joe: When I graduated from high school in 1964, I had to make a big, radical change in my life. My grandparents were my legal guardians. Well, my dad re-entered the picture and wanted me to work for him in his gas station. And even though I kinda liked the idea, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to pursue my big dream. So I got my grandparents to sign me up in the Navy. I got out of the whole thing by joining the Navy, who guaranteed me free school. You go in for three years, and then—as long as you did your time—you went to this school.

The whole idea was, they were going to send me—after boot camp in Oxnard, California, Port Hueneme—to an engineering drafting school. That was as close as I could get to drawing. I was going to learn to somehow convert my drawing talent into my lifestyle. Well, of course, how many promises are made and not kept? Sure enough, they screwed me out of that program. I did everything I possibly could to try to get them to change their mind and change my orders.

But you have to remember that was during the start of the Vietnam War. They used that leverage all the time. “If you don’t get in line and shut up and do what we asked you to, we’re going to send your ass to Vietnam.” That was about as far away from art school as you can get! [laughs] I’ll just do whatever they tell me to do. As it turns out, I got stationed in Coronado (near San Diego) at the amphibious base for almost the remainder of my career in the Navy. At least I wasn’t getting shot at. I started submitting my work to try to get accepted at various schools. The one that finally panned out was in Oakland, Calif., the California College of Arts and Crafts. About 1967.

Mike: Were there teachers there who inspired you?

Jill: It’s interesting you ask that. I had a teacher that was into existentialist literature and that’s when I read Camus, Dostoevsky, and Sartre, and wrote papers. I got into this whole existentialist state of mind and was able to absorb that information.

In the meantime I was painting. I painted these huge, white paintings with very thick paint. It was all about the substance of paint, as opposed to the image of a painting. My work was always about the materials that you’re working with. So it all seemed to kind of fit in, but I would say, surprisingly enough, my literature classes were the most influential.

Sam: I was going to high school in Gustine, in the San Joaquin Valley. That is like ’68. The art teacher in my high school lived in Mountain View, just south of San Francisco. She was a groovy, movie hippie lady. Her husband was a painter and a sculptor. They lived in the woods and they had all this wild artwork and they said, “You should really come to the city and move out of there. We’ll be glad to help you make that transition. You can get an apartment. We recommend San Francisco.”

At first, when I first moved out, I went to San Diego because my brother lived there and I did two years at Palomar, a junior college. I got an AA (Associate in Arts degree) there and I was a janitor at the art department. Kids who could afford it, or who dropped out of art school and it was just a fling for them, would leave all these brushes and paints and I’d keep everything. I was all set up to do art because all of this free gear. I had a good time there. That’s where I was learning not only ceramics, but jewelry and glass blowing.

When I applied at CCAC, I got equal opportunity grants and scholarships. So that enabled me to work part-time. I started an art gallery there and a frame shop.

Mike: Did you feel like you were part of a scene in the Bay Area? Did painters and writers and bands feel connected?

Jill: Absolutely. Because during that time we are talking about—I was in college from ’72 to ’76—and around 1974, things really started to blossom in the art world, especially in San Francisco, more than Oakland. The NEA was giving a lot of grant money to people with good proposals for alternative art spaces. There’d be performance art installations, gallery shows, art concepts, sound art. It was all done really well. Just like punk rock, there was a certain time where all this experimental artwork was done so well aesthetically that people jumped on that bandwagon—and made it a little more sloppy and a little less enjoyable for me.

Joe: The whole scene in the Bay Area back then was just golden. What’s not to like, right? Everything was happening in the music. And Berkeley—my whole politics, because I got rubbed wrong in the Navy—I had a real ax to grind because I felt like they cheated me and I was pretty angry about the whole thing. When you’re young and angry, it goes a long way. So it didn’t take me long before I got behind that wheel, protesting the war and all those kinds of things.

I had friends that were forced into Vietnam and I didn’t like that. And I lost friends over there. So it was all these things accumulating to develop my politics at the time and I became pretty extreme. But that’s normal. That’s what happens when you’re a young person. Your idealism is the thing you always seek, right? You look at life idealistically and you’re not going to settle for anything less. You haven’t been pounded down yet. It’s like what Henry David Thoreau pointed out so many times: it’s your responsibility to challenge your government. So I definitely was one of the first in line. [laughs]

Jill: I met Joe in college. We started going to places like La Mamelle and our friend Alan Scarritt’s space called Site. We went to a great performance once by an artist named Terry Fox who would string a piano wire from one hill to another up in Mount Tamalpais State Park. He would walk the length of the piano wire and it would just resonate through the acoustics of the mountains. A hundred people would go see these things. Those experiences were very mind opening, mind blowing. There were no boundaries anymore. Anything could happen now.

Joe: I actually thought I was going to be a sculptor. I kept always going through changes because I always explored every kind of creative possibility going. I started experimenting in performance art, so did a lot of other artists. Their sculptures became a part of a backdrop for their performance art things, trying to create sound and theater and doing poetry pieces, stuff like that. I joined an organization called the New Museum of Modern Art, which was nothing more than a group of people that would do outside performances in vacant lots. We’d send out flyers and scheduled what we call drive-by viewings—where you can drive your car by and look, and there’d be something going on. I was burning things in those days. I built these three-dimensional metal pieces that were hollowed out and filled with propane gas. They would go boom! They’d go up in flames. They wouldn’t destruct because it was repeating itself on a cycle, but I was doing crazy stuff like that.

Jason: Is that how you brought in multimedia elements?

Joe: Right, right. That was part of performance art. Someone had to do it in order to say, “Hey, I did this piece.” If you weren’t there at the show—or you wouldn’t have any way of showing other people—and finally video was starting to come around. Well, first it was film. But very few people could afford film. And the approach was different. What video did—which was simple, but this was the mind-blowing thing—you could see what you had done just a half hour ago. Everyone could see themselves. They could see how they looked on stage. They could see or hear what they sounded like, and on and on. It gave you an incredible advantage to correction, to creating, because you can make changes.

You started to be able to control time. It also gave confidence to a lot of people. It probably also destroyed a lot of people in the sense that, “I sound terrible and I’m not going to do this anymore.” It depends on your mind and how you look at things. You got to learn from each experience. It’s never going to be perfect.

This whole thing with punk wasn’t on fire yet. It started out with performance art pieces and there were certain people who I really admired. I would go to their shows. I traveled to go see them perform. Very intense kinds of things. They’re using body fluids and crawling around naked on the floor through razor blades. People shooting themselves, just to carry on the performance piece. There was a statement being made. This was heavy duty. Those are the people who attracted me. I was learning about how to create theater and how to communicate.

Mike: Did you think you might be the person on stage, at that point?

Joe: Oh yeah. I really didn’t see myself as a director or a documenter. Other than the fact that all of a sudden the school—after they got the camera, they’d started buying editing equipment. They could see how we can use this in the classroom. We could edit this and give lectures about our history or how to throw a clay pot on the wheel, those kinds of things.

Mike: Instructional films.

Joe: Right. Right away that was the big push. Everybody got on board with that, just swept the frigging country. They closed the editing room every night about eight o’clock. I’d hide in there and they’d lock me in. They didn’t even know it. I’d be there all night long. I used the water fountain as a piss pool. I was working on editing. It took so long to do anything. I remember it was a very slow process, but then again, compared to film, it was fast.

target video history photo

Sam: One of the first videos we did was for our friends who were also art students, The Mutants, so they could see what they look like on stage. I gave Sally and Sue from The Mutants an off-campus show of their artwork, which is pretty weird stuff. In order to graduate, they had to have one show off the campus. They’d be turned down by all these big galleries because they didn’t want a bunch of art school students and their bizarre work. It was leaning towards punk already.

Jason: Do you remember when the school got a camera?

Joe: I was one of the first Video Art teachers, come to think of it. Here’s a photograph [shows the photo] of me when I got my first job at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. It was a brand new reel-to-reel, by the way, they still hadn’t bought the Portapak (a self-contained video tape recording system that was originally released as two pieces: the camera and a separate deck, that had to be plugged into the wall) with the cassettes yet. I got a job right away because I was the video guy. I learned everything I possibly could. What I didn’t know, I would go to the techs or I would try to push the limit. We tried—you couldn’t really cut videotape and splice it. Unlike film, it just didn’t work. You’d lose that sync. And it looked like shit, although nowadays it would probably be called an “effect.” But we didn’t want that. And the crash edits on the old reel-to-reel machines, they’re pretty nasty, but it’s all we had at the time. Then I got my hands on the equipment where you could dissolve one image over another, but you had to have sync generators, all that. So yeah, you just rolled with it, whatever you could get.

Jason: Was the first camera you used for Target from the college?

Joe: Well, my theory was, I had to have a camera. If I could get it for free, I’d take it for free. I worked off of that for quite a while because I just really couldn’t afford a real good camera—they were really expensive in those days. When we first got those black and white cameras, the first product that Sony put out, no one even wanted to use a video camera because the quality wasn’t up to film at all. It wasn’t even close and the students didn’t see any use for it.

Jill: So we started getting a little inspired and we did things at home—crazy, fun stuff—just between the two of us. We would film a spider walking on a big, huge white wall with David Bowie music going on in the background. Or one film we made was of a cat playing with a balled-up hundred dollar bill as a toy. Another film was Ted Falconi (guitarist and co-founder of Flipper) making Turkish coffee, and this kind of a series of small films we made.

And during that time—we’re talking around ’74 to ’76—that’s when Christo did his Running Fence that went from Marin to Sonoma County. It was twenty-four miles long. We went out; I took beautiful photographs of that. Joe actually hired a plane and did a film from a bird’s eye view. That was a really amazing experience. Truly incredible. So, we’d say, “Let’s go see this, this weekend. Let’s go do this. Let’s go do that.” And this had nothing to do yet with any bands performing. We were filming concept-oriented ideas.

Mike: The DIY ethic is really just coming out of being young and wanting to make art. But DIY and punk were not actual terms yet.

Jill: No, not at all. In our first party at the first warehouse in Oakland, The Mutants played. The Mutants had four members from the art college. A concert that they gave on the college grounds inspired me to cut my long hair off and put red spray or a dye in my hair. I guess that’s the day I became transformed. That was a big deal. I have this long brown hair and it was all of a sudden butch with combed straight-back red hair, spray dye in it. My first new music experience.

And then we had a party with them—and I don’t even think we filmed that party—but three hundred people came. That’s how big our space was. Even back then in the early seventies, we could accommodate a few hundred people. It was a beautiful warehouse. It had redwood floors and white walls. I was able to make huge paintings and Joe was making neon downstairs. Other artists were working downstairs. It was a cooperative.

Why were a lot of people living in warehouses at the time?

a band is performing at Napa State

Jill: They were pretty accessible. They were cheap and it wasn’t easy living. It was roughing it, but it was very glamorous at the same time. We had all this space. Ours was two-story. We lived upstairs and downstairs was a concrete floor. I had a darkroom. We rented out two or three smaller studios to other sculptors, so we had a little revenue coming in from that, but rent was very, very cheap. My portion was like sixty dollars a month.

Joe: The first Oakland warehouse is where I actually did mostly sculpture. The original Target Video was Sam, Jill, and myself. That was on 47th Street in Oakland. I first started doing my videos and going out of the studio to shoot things, in other studios or at shows.

The Mutants playing at the first warehouse was our first event. But then that wasn’t long before the Sex Pistols concert. Joe snuck an 8mm camera into Winterland. I brought my zoom lens on my Pentax and I shot some great shots of the Sex Pistols. Joe made a film and everything was really great and exciting. We were in the balcony. We weren’t in the middle of the mosh pit. We were all zooming in on this stuff.

I have to admit, The Sex Pistols were kind of new to me. I liked their records. So it was shocking to find out how sad that show was for John Lydon. It was a terrible experience for him. But at the time we had no idea. In the crowd, it was a great show. People were throwing shit all over the stage—toilet paper, beer cans, all of that. We thought it was funny.

Joe: I took a film camera, and video, but mainly I was trying to shoot film. There were two sets of people who worked for Bill Graham. One of his assistants gave me a location where I wasn’t going to be bothered or anything like that in order to shoot that show. Things started out pretty well, then maybe twenty, twenty-five minutes, Graham’s goons found me and put an end to my filming. So then being depressed, I went and started whining to Graham’s assistant and she said, “Joe just hook up to our mix right here. Just put your deck right here, run a video line, and it’s yours.” So I got the direct feed, the audio and the video.

Jill: We came home that night and that warehouse had burned. We had a fire. That put a crunch on our relationship and our lives completely.

Joe: So after the show was over, it was about two in the morning. We packed up and we headed from San Francisco back to 47th Street. I get off the freeway and our studio was surrounded by fire trucks. The studio had burned down that night to the ground. Talk about anarchy. In the end, all my sculptures, my collections of art books, all that stuff was gone, including my pets. I had some chickens and cats. Everything was destroyed.

Jill: We just saw the last fire truck pull away. I have photos of the aftermath: our albums burnt, our kitchen burnt. Everything was charred. The Red Cross came to our aid. Everything. It was devastating. Joe was a neon artist too, and that whole thing got crushed and damaged. My dark room got flooded from the water from putting out the fire. A lot of my photographs and negatives got damaged. Funny thing is, the last room to get the fire had a glass case in it that had films and Joe’s slides. That didn’t get damaged. So, fortunately, he was able to keep all the photographs of all the work he had created and some of the films

Sam: After the big fire, I didn’t want to see Joe with all his skill going down in flames with all of his stuff. We needed a new project to keep our morale up and the video was just beginning. It was a new cutting edge. We could jump in on that and get going, but it’s hard to do by yourself, ’cause it’s a collaborative field.

Joe: It was bare bones, nothing left basically. So the word got out in our little community that this is what happened. All these bands started performing fundraisers. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it got everyone excited. “We’re going to get Target back on his feet because we like what they’re doing.” Six months later, I’m down the street on 56th, a whole new studio that is bigger, better. So that fire caused the opposite to happen. My whole life changed for the better.

Jill: It wasn’t long after the fire that Joe found another space in Oakland. We coined the name Target Video in the original warehouse. One day he came home from teaching. He goes, “I got it. I know what I want to call the place.” It took a couple of variations, but finally it came down to Target Video.

vocal singer of Cramps

Jason: Right. What was the longer version?

Jill: It was T-O-S-S. I still have a button that says T.O.S.S. on it, and I don’t remember what it stands for: “Target Organization, Socials, Scumbags”? Something like that, something crazy. Then we just reduced it down to Target Video.

In the middle of the camera was a target, so it was whatever the camera was looking at. It was simple enough. Just the idea of a target. You’d be the target of whatever the camera’s looking at, right? Besides trying to find a simple name, that was also a spin-off from performance days when an artist was called a zero—a useless person. So I just put a dot in the middle of the zero. [laughs] There were all kinds of game playing going on. It was inside jokes. Target Video. “You’re on Target Video.”

Jill: That’s when we started in the second warehouse and that’s where the TV show started. I had a darkroom there. That’s where I shot all of Crime’s promo shots. And that’s where the Screamers video was made.

Joe: We didn’t last long there. We had a couple of shows. It was really out in the middle of nowhere and an industrial area between Oakland and Berkeley. I was actually running back and forth to San Francisco to do that cable show in those days. I managed to get enough money together for brand new three-quarter inch editing decks, set up in the warehouse.

At one point we found access to the community channel in San Francisco. We used to do shows every Wednesday night. I went in cahoots with some other artists. We pooled our money so we could get an editing system.

I started to understand video and understand enough about programming. The first big push, people really liked. There weren’t too many people around documenting groups, new garage bands. We got caught up in that because of The Mutants, our friends from art school. I met Penelope Houston from the Art Institute and she formed a band, the Avengers. So I started doing their videos, ’cause they could see how it could spread the word about what they did. We started putting it on the cable show on channel 25, which was free. And so who’s on before me? The Maharishi show.

Mike: For people who don’t know who he is, can you explain?

Joe: Well, it’s hard for me to explain other than he was an Indian monk. It was a show all about meditation. He was a very nice guy. It’s all really kept in this spiritual zone and very quiet; this experience that you’d go through to relax. When his show stopped—I think it was eight o’clock—then Target Video would start. The problem was, I kept thinking: I’m getting a lot of sleepy people watching the show. I don’t want that. So I decided to come up with an opening for my show that would really put me away from his show. So it was a machine gun montage—this guy with a machine gun, and I would edit and all these poor people getting blown away—and left it going for the first thirty seconds. So right away it’s like a slap in the face. “Wake up! This is the real world!” And then on goes the punk rock bands. Maharishi told me he thought it was great. He really liked it. He really did. So, you know, the man is just all good.

audience point of view at Napa State

Jason: Describe the cable show—if somebody tuned in, what was the average episode?

Joe: Well, it’d be a mix of bands that we shot—Flipper live at Target Studios, poet John Cooper Clarke performing his humorous “I Married a Monster from Outer Space,” then a video montage I made over the Dead Kennedys’ “Chemical Warfare” song, the Germs live at The Mab. The Cramps at Napa was during that period of time, so no matter what, whatever happened during the week, I always put a song or two from The Cramps performance. ’Cause it was always going to be an internal, wonderful piece.

Jason: Did you also show the early art videos on cable?

Joe: Yeah, some boring art performance stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of the early art stuff was pretty yawn-y. You know? There was too much spirituality. You had to have imagination to watch those videos. They were really slow, but the punk stuff got the biggest responses around town. I’d have a stranger say, “Hey, I saw that show you put on the other night.” “You watched it?!” I realized—there’s some more power. There’s another way to communicate ideas.

We would do other things, too. Sometimes we’d do interviews, but I tried to stay away from too many of those because, again, it would put you to sleep. I would do video montage pieces. I would take soundtracks and I had a whole library of images. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of clippings I would get off of old films of surgeries and stuff like that. Lobotomies and all this crazy war footage. I clipped those together and started creating that way.

Mike: Even if somebody else was making music videos on film, you wouldn’t have seen them, right? It’s all getting created at the same time.

Joe: That didn’t come till later. When I had that channel 25 show, 1978-1979, there really were no music videos. It just wasn’t happening yet. When all of a sudden this MTV thing came along in 1981, I thought, for sure, they’re going to be knocking down my door because I already had a pretty good sized library of original material. Now of course, granted, a lot of them weren’t really famous. I had The Talking Heads—I did that very early—and the Ramones. But I still thought, “They’re going to have to come around to a guy like me.” Wrong!
So the only thing I can do is try to make sure that my particular work was something that they didn’t want to put on TV ’cause it was just too heavy. [laughs] Too many explosions, too much bloodshed, this and that.

Jason: It seems like a lot of the bands originated in art school?

Joe: The Art Institute in San Francisco and the CCAC in Oakland, and that was about it pretty much. Penelope Houston (Avengers) was going to the Art Institute. Several others, but more performance art type people were over there. But you have to understand there was also the struggle going on between so-called outrageous performance artists and the word “punk.” Nobody wanted to be associated with punk. I thought it was lovely. I thought it was terrific because it had all the elements that I really want. The rock’n’roll music, the edgy garage sound, the “take a chance” to do it yourself, the DIY kind of thing. To me, that was as close to being raw material as possible. That was poetry in motion. I believed in it—still do—but the art scene; they were too snooty and they were too cool to be associated with it.

Cramps performing at Napa State

Mike: Did you feel a scene actually happening at that moment? Beyond having “five friends in bands and they’re playing, so I’m going to go film them”? Did you feel people moving to town?

Joe: Absolutely. Oh my god, yes. If I’m talking about the early ’80s, it’s an explosion of creative energy. I’m not just talking about people performing on stage. I’m talking about graphic artists. I’m talking about writers. I’m talking about people who want to start their own magazine. I’m talking about poetry. You name it, all those creative types, flooding to San Francisco. It was a giant magnet. I’d say between ’78/’79 till about ’84/’85, it was incredible. I loved every second of it because I could see it happening. It was just exciting. You walked down the street and you were looking at posters. They were awesome. Now there are people who have dedicated their lives to collecting those posters.

Mike: From the outside looking in, it seemed like a healthy environment in the punk scene, at least in California, for women to be in bands and to be creating art, as opposed to what was going on in the arena rock scene at the same time. Were you conscious of that?

Jill: You had bands with girls in them and it was really refreshing. No, it wasn’t that conscious. I don’t think it was. I really don’t. You know why? Because we all were so part of the system. There were women who were photographing, there were women in bands, there were women making clothes. There were women doing engineering. There were women making magazines. There were men and women doing all of the above. So everybody was involved in some way, whether they were in a band or not. So the fact that one was on stage playing wasn’t that shocking because this other woman, she made clothes for The Weirdos or she put out the magazine that told us that this gig was happening. You know what I mean? The women were equally contributing to the scene, whether they were in a band or not.

Mike: Coming out of the ’60s and going into the ’70s with rock and pop music, besides a handful of examples, the vibe becomes “rockstars are dudes and women are groupies.” It’s so tiresome.

Jill: Well, absolutely. And that’s why punk rock kind of started. Just get rid of all this glam stuff. “Let’s get real, let’s get down, let’s get to the garage and pick up a guitar, learn how to play.” That’s what was so refreshing about it. It didn’t matter what you wore. The uglier you tried to get, the cooler you were. [laughs] That’s funny. That cracks me up. The goofier, the nerdier you got, the better it was. But that changed. The spiked hair and the black leather jackets and the piercings. The angry punk scene that came out of it was different than what started it.

Mike: Some punks also came from broken homes. Did it feel like a family experience for most of the early years?

Jill: Totally. It was definitely a tight knit family. We were angry about politics as we still are today. When you listen to the music now, it’s just as true today as it was then. We were happy to have an outlet for ourselves and not depend on record companies or promoters. We can do it ourselves. We can go and do our own TV show. We can go and do our own band. We can have our own clubs. We don’t need to have somebody tell us, our hair needs to look like this or that. We can look however we want. We can define ourselves as individuals and get the frustration out through our music, through the posters, through the flyers, through the videos, through the photography, through the clothes you make. Everyone was really doing that. They were dyeing their hair. They didn’t go to a salon. They didn’t go to Walmart.

Mike: Blue hair used to make normal people so angry.

Jill: Now no one even thinks twice about it. Now you hear the Ramones on a commercial for an exercise bike for chrissakes. They wouldn’t play them on the radio when the records came out.

Jason: What was everyone’s typical role for a show, whether a warehouse or a club?

Sam: We’d divvy it up, but I usually was either a bartender, a bouncer, or engineer. You know, keep the gear working. We had to build and manufacture our own steadicam. Joe would wear that. And a whole stand that held all the Portapaks. That was all jerry-rigged together out of a hand truck, but it worked well. We were sculptors, so we could do it. If we had to weld it, we’d weld it, make rivets, whatever it needed.

I had some good times as a bouncer and some bad times. Just one of the jobs that someone had to do. I was bigger, like 250 pounds, and I didn’t like it. ’Cause people would say, “Here comes Joe Rees with his gorilla.” Wait a minute, I’m a sensitive frigging artist!

Cramps performing at Napa State

I could protect him in a mob scene because sometimes the pogo pit was just a writhing snake pit of kids having fun. One of the ways they had fun was to sabotage the video cables. We had to duct tape every joint ’cause they had unscrewed it and then laugh at you when everything went black. Or they’d peel up the tape where you had things put down, so people wouldn’t trip over it. Sometimes it was the crush of the kids coming at the stage, not in a panic, but just for fun. I had to put one leg on each side of Joe on the stage, and he’s standing in this V between the stage and me. That’s the triangle of life.

Joe: It took so much light to shoot those video scenes. Let’s face it, working with punk rock in clubs where they only have two or three light bulbs going—very low light. It was horrible. I altered that tube inside the camera. I had a technician friend at school, a genius guy. He said, “Let’s try using one of these security cam tubes.” He adapted it to the circuitry and the video camera. Then the next thing, this kid—I hate to tell you the story. It’s kind of a terrible thing, but he stole his Dad’s Angenieux lens (a high quality zoom lens with a lot of range) from a 16mm film camera and gave it to me. Just because he wanted to see me be able to make better videos! I was bitching and moaning about the lens. So I had this $2,000 lens, which had a c-mount, which would screw right into this cheap video camera. Well, the quality of the image changed immensely.

It was just so sharp, but the two drawbacks were—one is, you had to ride the aperture all the time to make sure it didn’t blow out the image. ’Cause you could open it up so far that all you’d have is black and white and you couldn’t see any detail to face or instruments. The other thing was, it would cause a Moiré pattern (a criss-crossing pattern with opposite lines fucking up the image). It’s a metal lens. My hand would become a grounding unit and would cause a Moiré pattern to show up on the screen. You don’t want that either. So I used to wear a surgical glove.

Jill: The second warehouse was not as glamorous as the first one. I think nothing could have ever been as beautiful as that place. That first place was two stories. The upstairs was all redwood, huge twelve-foot windows. We had a rooftop garden. We had a water tower that we had chickens in. We had cactuses growing out there. We had a very kind of a domestic situation going on. The second warehouse didn’t have that. It was purely industrial. And to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember a kitchen in that place. I don’t remember certain details about those times. A lot happened, but it was short.

Jason: So it’s the second warehouse, also in Oakland, that we see in The Screamers studio videos.

Jill: That’s where we started doing events. We had this crazy fashion show. Alan Scarritt did a huge spiral plaster pour on the floor. It was like a huge painting on the floor. Just fabulous aesthetics going on. People getting involved and wanting to know what was going on over here, what was going on over there. The more interest, the more energy that got generated, the more excitement built in the year. It just fed off of everybody fed off of each other.

Mike: Did you know many of the bands before the second warehouse?

Jill: So in ’78 we got the second space and—I believe that ’77 is when the Mabuhay opened for bands—it was after the second warehouse that we started really filming the bands. We started driving to the city and going to the Mab and filming stuff, and then making the weekly Channel 25 cable TV show, magazine-type thing. I can’t say we filmed that many bands in that space. We started going out to the clubs and filming live in black and white.

Mike: The Bay Area scene is just starting out in 1977. Were there many ways to see bands?

Jill: There was no way to see bands or know they were playing, unless somebody told you or you saw flyers. So you just pack up your video gear and drive out to the club. You’d need an electrical outlet to plug in the camera and the deck. We’d bring a ladder so Joe could be above the crowd and shoot these bands. Then come home and edit for the Wednesday night TV show. You and I had a conversation before about how funny it is shooting the graphics and the technical challenges back then.

Jason: Yes let’s talk about that, how you did graphics.

Jill: So in order to edit anything, you would need a second recorder. You would play what you want, record what you want on the second deck, stop the first one and go forward until you get to what you want next. And then record that onto the next reel, the second deck. And it was truly manual editing. There’s no cutting and splicing, even. It was time-consuming, but it was raw. It’s been changed, it’s been digitized now, but the original was pretty raw.

So we would show maybe thirty seconds of a band and then there’d be a little video clip, and then you’d see another minute or something like that. The songs were only a minute and a half long anyway. To do the TV show, we’d have to create the credits and shoot the credits for the camera. So I would do the Letraset or handwritten credits or shaving cream over a piece of glass or something on a mirror or whatever we came up with. We were always in a hurry to get it done on time. We pulled it off every week for what, a year? This is totally pre-cassette tapes. This is reel-to-reel video.

Mike: It was a big-time physical activity to actually film anybody and make a compilation.

Jill: Yeah, it was the state-of-the-art at the time. We managed to make it all work because we didn’t know how easy it was going to get. We knew it was faster than film. We knew it was right here and now, and we’re going to put this thing together. “We shot this yesterday. We can put it out today.” So for us it was exciting because it was immediate and that’s what it meant to us.

Sam: You’re collaborating with musicians and engineers and people who are trying to back you, but we wouldn’t let anyone. They offered sex, drugs, money, or something. I said, “The only way into Target is with hard work. You can’t buy your way on with favors, or with a bunch of coke on a mirror, or by trying to buy fifty-one percent so you could tell everyone where to go and what to do. If you want to donate or buy some equipment, you’d be welcome to, but never controlling interests.” People offered to buy controlling interest. You have to keep some sort of control to go where you want to go creatively.

Jason: How did the shows get out to the world in the 1980s?

Joe: In 1980, we put out the first video album on VHS. There wasn’t much to look at, just a picture of me with a camera on it. This was a photograph of the cops when they came in one night and raided the place. They didn’t know what was going on. They’re all confused. “What the hell is going on? There’s quite a few strange people.”

VHS was the only format at that time that was commercial. Later I had thirty or thirty-five players. I started a duplication business from the street level because there were people asking me, “Hey, can you make a copy of a tape for me?” There were a lot of artists with tapes of their own work who needed copies to send out to get themselves shows. There was a doctor who was also an instructor, who needed tapes of himself doing procedures to show medical students. It was a lot of boring dupes—but there were also indie filmmakers around town needing tapes. I made copies for Rick Schmidt of his punk film Emerald Cities. We had met as sculptors in art school. His work blew me away. I made copies for Wayne Wang, of his early films. A lot of college student filmmakers were around. All of a sudden I realized I could actually make money off of duplication and at the same time pay for all the equipment for doing my own duplication.

For the Target Video releases, I did my own graphics. I designed my own tape covers. We actually printed everything. I got one of these color printers that would do one color at a time, then change the ink and do the next color. We printed everything, we cut it, we packaged it. We did mailorder for the VHS tapes and sold them in small record stores in San Francisco and Oakland.

Jill: I moved to New York in 1979 to promote a Target Video show. The first Target Video shown on a big screen in New York City on St. Mark’s Place. The editor of Interview magazine, Glenn O’Brien, hooked me up with a show. I brought videos there and we were doing a show called “Electronic Cinema.” While I was in New York, I was offered a job with Virgin Records and I stayed for two years. So from late ’79, ’80 and ’81, I was in New York. However, I toured with Target Video in Europe, assisting with the tasks of our exhibitions.

While living in New York, I traveled up and down the East Coast, setting up shows for Target Video from Philly, DC, and Boston. I became the East Coast Representative for Target Video during those years although I’d visit SF occasionally for various projects.

co-producer of Target shows and video shoots, lived in the 3rd warehouse,
on Van Ness in the Mission District

I joined Target in late 1979. We would have late night parties in the warehouse, so people would have a place to go after 2 a.m. In late 1980, we went on our first European tour. We did Target Video screenings in different cities, at community centers, bars, discos, etc. Anywhere from a 90-minute show, to an 8-hour show we did in Brussels.The crowd wanted it to start over at the end! A lot of the footage was brand new, sometimes from the month before.

We ran into kids wearing the Germs’ blue circle logo. Punk bands were touring there at the same time. The Dead Kennedys were in London when we were there, The Ramones were in Paris.

In 1984, after leaving Target Video, I moved back to Los Angeles from Austin. Joe was hand-making his VHS dupes. He and his old friend, artist Elizabeth Sher, started Alpha Studios and that entity was the duplication company. It was run out of the Mission warehouse on Van Ness.

I started a video distribution company called Independent World Video. I repped Target, Les Blank films and many individual artists who had maybe one recording each. The main thing about Target Video distribution growing was that I got Tower Video to do a huge buy. They bought a truckload - ok, a pickup truck - of videos. Perhaps someday something will be said about renting VHS, as buying videos then was expensive, like $40. It was always a huge struggle, the unit pricing for independents.

“Live at Target” (1980) is the exception as it was made as a VHS “album” release and the intention was to get it out there. It was coordinated with Subterranean Records [also based in the Target Video warehouse in the Mission] who put out the LP “Live at Target” simultaneously with the VHS tape.

Joe: People found out about the tapes through different ways. I did an interview for Thrasher Magazine. That was big. ArtForum wrote about Target in 1981. We did a tour in Europe of twenty-two countries, showing videos live, starting in Paris.

I was building a library. I was building a company, a museum, and a non-profit organization. That’s the way I looked at it. And remember, it wasn’t anything unique. There were art and non-profit alternative spaces all over, except I was dealing with punk rock.

And it is to this day, out of all the videos I’ve done, I have gotten more feedback—and I mean literally thousands of people—have commented about that black and white tape (of Napa State). It’s being at the right place at the right time and feeling the vibe, baby. ’Cause it was awesome. It was a totally awesome show.

The legendary doc The Napa State Tapes will be screened at The Beverly Theater on June 13. Get tickets and more information at https://www.thebeverlytheater.com/shows-details?id=346799