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Cold Shot Guitar Lesson (Stevie Ray Vaughan)

Today I want to share with you how I play “Cold Shot” as recorded by Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar. This song is a masterclass in how to play high-level blues guitar. It showcases Vaughan’s incredible chops and unwavering blues groove. 

So grab your guitar and let’s dive into this “Cold Shot” guitar lesson.

Who wrote the song Cold Shot?

The song "Cold Shot" was written by Michael Kindred, also known as Michael Kamen, and bluesman W.C. Clark.

It was originally released by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble in 1984 as part of their album Couldn't Stand the Weather.

The song became one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's most popular tracks and a staple in his live performances.

What tuning is Cold Shot in?

Stevie Ray Vaughan often tuned down half a step for many of his songs. This is what he did on “Cold Shot”. The correct tuning is as follows:

Eb - 6th string (tuned down to Eb from E)

Ab - 5th string (tuned down to Ab from A)

Db - 4th string (tuned down to Db from D)

Gb - 3rd string (tuned down to Gb from G)

Bb - 2nd string (tuned down to Bb from B)

Eb - 1st string (tuned down to Eb from E)

By tuning down half a step, Stevie Ray Vaughan achieved a slightly lower pitch, which added to the distinctiveness and character of his guitar sound. This tuning was one of his trademarks and contributed to the bluesy and soulful vibe of his music.

Cold Shot Chords

To play “Cold Shot” you’ll only need to know 3 chords Am7, Dm7, and E7#9. The chord shapes for Am7 and Dm7 are the same they are just located at different frets on the neck. Vaughan would play the Am7 and the Dm7 as thumb chords. This means his fretting hand thumb would come over the top of the neck and play bass notes. For these two chords, his fretting hand thumb would play the root note on the 6th string. And then his index finger would bar strings 1-4.

Here is how this is down on the Am7:

Then for the Dm7 just relocate the same grip up to the 10th fret like this:

The last chord you’ll need to know is the E7#9 (AKA the Jimi Hendrix chord) which is played like this:

Now it’s important to note that these are the guitar chords. But remember that Vaughan was tuned down ½ step. So the actual concert pitch of these chords would be Abm7, Dbm7, and Eb7#9. But for us (on guitar) we will play in the key of Am with the concert key being Abm.

Next, let’s take a look at how these chords relate to a blues progression in the key:

Am7 (A minor 7):

The Am7 chord is an A minor triad with the addition of the minor 7th (G) note. The chord has the notes A, C, E, and G in it. In the context of an A minor blues, the Am7 chord is the tonic or "home" chord. It's often played at the beginning and end of the blues progression.

Dm7 (D minor 7):

The Dm7 chord is a D minor triad with the minor 7th (C) note included. The chord has the notes D, F, A, and C in it. In an A minor blues, the Dm7 chord is the IV (four) chord. It adds a touch of tension and prepares the listener for the return back “home” to the tonic chord (Am7).

E7#9 (E dominant 7 sharp 9):

The E7#9 chord is an E dominant 7th chord with the sharp 9th (G) note added. The chord is made up of the notes E, G#, B, D, and G. In an A minor blues, the E7#9 chord functions as the V (five) chord. This chord builds a significant amount of tension and leads back to the Am7 chord, resolving the progression. You’ll see this when we get into the progression.

Let’s next take a look at how these chords are used in “Cold Shot”. This song does not follow a typical 12-bar blues progression. This one mixes it up. The core form this groovy blues is 15 bars long. It starts with 8 bars of Am7.

Am7 (8 bars)

The last two bars often have a break on beat 1 of bar 7. The first time you hear this the band breaks on the word “just” when Vaughan is singing the lyrics, “It just don't mean a thing. And that's a cold shot, baby…”

Then we move to Dm7 for 2 bars, and then back to Am7 for 2 bars.

Dm7 (2 bars)

Am7 (2 bars)

Then we repeat those 4 bars again but this time trade out the Am7 for an E7#9 chord like this:

Dm7 (2 bars)

E7#9 (2 bars)

Those last 4 bars function as the turnaround for this blues. Then Vaughan goes straight back to the I chord (Am7) and often just vamps for 4 bars or cues the next section. But that is the core form of this blues progression. Altogether it goes: 

Am7 (8 bars)

Dm7 (2 bars)

Am7 (2 bars)

Dm7 (2 bars)

E7#9 (2 bars)

Cold Shot Guitar Tone

Vaughan’s guitar tone on "Cold Shot" is a perfect example of his distinctive sound that made him one of the most celebrated guitarists in blues music. The sound he got was incredible. 

Here are 3 secrets to break down how he got the sound you hear on the recording: 

  1. Guitar: Vaughan predominantly used a Fender Stratocaster, and on "Cold Shot," he likely played his famous "Number One" Strat, which was a 1959 Fender Stratocaster with a sunburst finish. The Stratocaster's single-coil pickups played a significant role in producing the bright and twangy sound that characterized his tone.
  2. Amplifiers: Stevie Ray Vaughan was known for his preference for vintage Fender amplifiers. On many recordings, including "Cold Shot," he used two Fender Vibroverb amplifiers in stereo. These tube-driven amps provided a warm and rich sound that complemented his playing style.
  3. Strings: Vaughan used heavy gauge strings, typically .013-.058 or even .014-.060. The thicker strings contributed to his big and powerful sound.

Cold Shot Guitar Solo Lesson

The primary scale that Vaughan uses to play his solo in this song is the A minor blues scale.

The A minor blues scale is a variation of the A minor pentatonic scale, with an additional note known as the "blue note." The blue note adds a distinctive bluesy sound to the scale. The A minor blues scale consists of the following notes:

A, C, D, Eb, E, G

In terms of intervals, the A minor blues scale includes the root note (A), minor third (C), perfect fourth (D), diminished fifth (Eb, also known as the blue note), perfect fifth (E), and minor seventh (G).

This scale can be played at the 5th fret like this:

These same strings and frets would go:

6th string frets = 5, 8

5th string frets = 5, 6, 7

4th string frets = 5, 7

3rd string frets = 5, 7, 8 

2nd string frets = 5, 8

1st string frets = 5, 8

Next, let’s look at 3 examples of how Vaughan used this scale to solo over “Cold Shot”

Example 1 uses a technique Vaughan used quite a bit called double-stops. A double-stop on the guitar is a technique where two strings are played simultaneously, producing two notes that harmonize together.

Example 2 proves the use of the blues scale notes in action in the 5th position. This is like a “home” position for many blues solos, and is often the one blues players are most comfortable with.

Example 3 starts a little bit lower in pitch ascends higher up the scale and then comes back at the end. This just shows how you don’t need a lot of theory beyond using the blues scale to start creating epic blues guitar leads.

Conclusion:

“Cold Shot” is an amazing blues song written by Michael Kamen and W.C. Clark. Vaughan’s version was the version that put this song on the map. It also really showcases his incredible blues guitar skills. Make sure to take it slow and work it out piece by piece. Then when you feel comfortable try playing it along with the recording. Have fun! And for more blues guitar lessons check out this post on the 101 best blues songs to learn on guitar next! 

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