In the studio

‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ was possibly the first song recorded for the Blackstar album. The backing track was recorded at the Magic Shop studio in New York on 5 January 2015.

He came in and introduced himself, Visconti and the great producer Kevin Killen. We just basically all met and he just said, “Should we start with this song?” It might have been ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’. The first time we went into the studio together and he opened his mouth to sing on the first take, that’s where it hit me. It was like, “Holy shit, I’m really in the studio with a rock star now.” It doesn’t hit you when you meet him. He’s just a very elegant sort of gentleman. He was dressed casually and very nice, pretty normal.
Jason Lindner
Rolling Stone, 4 December 2015

Bowie had recorded home demos of the majority of the Blackstar songs, which he shared with the musicians. ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ was one of the oldest songs to be tackled.

My brother recently shared this story on his Facebook page. Before we went down to the recording studio, David sent me the demo for ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’, and the first line of it is, “Man, she punched me like a dude.” And I was just laughing my ass off. It was so funny to hear David Bowie deliver a line like that. And I was like, “Matthew, check this out. It’s mad funny [laughs].” It’s just so funny.

The thing is it actually came from a play he had read. David was super, super erudite, very well read. And a lot of the lyrics on Blackstar had these literary references of which I’m not aware. But they’re all there, and they all have some sort of meaning behind them. It’s crazy.

Tim Lefebvre
Observer.com, 20 January 2016

The backing track was recorded live by the band – McCaslin, bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre, keyboard player Jason Lindner, and drummer Mark Guiliana.

The groove on the demo was a driving one-bar loop. The challenge was to play this repetitive part but stay in the moment and keep pushing the intensity. Fortunately we were all in the same room playing together for every take, including David. He was singing with incredible energy, providing great inspiration and musical direction.

This track has a very live spirit that could’ve only been captured if we were all in the same room, reacting to each other’s musical decisions. The climate in the sessions was that every idea was a good idea. I did an overdub on my Roland SPD-SX, which was full of 808 sounds, not knowing that it would actually make the cut. They ended up using all the sounds.

Mark Guiliana
Modern Drummer, February 2016

According to McCaslin, the recording may have been the band’s first attempt at the song.

We never did a lot of takes. Between one and three, and that was it. When we got together for that first week, David said he wanted to re-record ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’. We were playing hard, going for it. That just happened in, like, ten minutes. That might have been the first take.
Donny McCaslin, 31 October 2015
Uncut, January 2016

Some songs are like a wall of sound, like ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’. That’s one where I was using a lot of octave pedal. It’s one where the vocal treatment of it sounds a lot like the ’80s. We just heard him singing live in the studio when he would come in and do the takes with us. You don’t imagine what the end product will be, and my mind was seriously blown [when I heard it].
Tim Lefebvre
No Treble, 14 January 2016

Bowie re-recorded his vocals at Human Studios, run by Tony Visconti’s son Morgan. The sessions took place on 20 and 22 April 2015, and that month also saw McCaslin overdub a number of saxophone and flute parts.

In April, I did a day of overdubs at Tony’s place, some flute on ‘Blackstar’ and another saxophone part for ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’. David and Tony spent a lot of time there, after we did that first round, listening to the stuff over and over and sifting through the material to make it what it is. I know David did some more vocal stuff.
Donny McCaslin, 31 October 2015
Uncut, January 2016

McCaslin later spoke of his regret that Bowie had not played more saxophone on the album.

We talked a lot about sax players, but he didn’t bring his horn. That would have been fantastic. But his horn is all over the demo for ‘’Tis A Pity…’ and one called ‘The Hunger’ [‘Lazarus’].
Donny McCaslin, 31 October 2015
Uncut, January 2016