"Willie the Weeper" is a song about drug addiction. It is based on a standard vaudeville song, likely written in 1904.
The song has many different versions, but all share a common theme: Willie, a chimney sweeper with a dope habit, is introduced. The rest of the song is a description of his drug-induced dream.
The references to "smoking pills" in these "Willie" tunes isn't that strange when it is taken into consideration that drug vernacular at the time referred to balls of opium as "pills."
As "Willie the Peeper" the song was published in 1912.
Written (or more likely adapted) by Harry Armstrong, Billy Clark and James Coogan.
And (as the sheetmusic shows) sung with great success by 2 of the composers themselves.
In 1927 Carl Sandburg wrote in his book The American Songbag:
R. W. Gordon in his editorship of the Adventure magazine department "Old Songs That Men Have Sung" received thirty versions of Willy the Weeper, about one hundred verses different. Willy shoots craps with kings, plays poker with presidents, eats nightingale tongues a queen cooks for him; his Monte Carlo winnings come to a million, he lights his pipe with a hundred dollar bill, he has heart affairs with Cleopatra, the Queen of Sheba, and movie actresses.
In 1927 the song was published as "Willie the Weeper".
This time written (or more likely adapted) by Walter Melrose, Grant Rymal and Marty Bloom.
On the next site Pops Coffee compares both versions;
Although the song became extremely popular in 1927, "Willie the Weeper" was already recorded in 1925 by Ernest Rogers.
(c) Ernest Rogers (1925)
Recorded January 30, 1925 in Atlanta
Released on Columbia 15012-D
Columbia matrix 140304. Willie the weeper / Ernest Rogers - Discography of American Historical Recordings
Listen here: cusb_col_15012d_01_140304_02.wav
After the Melrose /Bloom version got published in 1927, Ernest Rogers recorded a new version of "his" song, this time on the Victor-label and with a slightly different title.
(c) Ernest Rogers (1927) (as "Willie the chimney Sweeper")
Recorded February 17, 1927 in Atlanta
Releeased on Victor 20502
Victor matrix BVE-37915. Willie, the chimney sweeper / Ernest Rogers - Discography of American Historical Recordings
Willie, the Chimney Sweeper : Ernest Rogers : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Listen here: Willie%2C the Chimney Sweeper - Ernest Rogers.mp3
(c) King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators (1927)
Recorded April 22, 1927 in Chicago
Released on Vocalion 1112
Brunswick matrix C808-C809. Willie, the weeper / Dixie Syncopators ; King Oliver - Discography of American Historical Recordings
(c) Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven (1927)
Recorded May 7, 1927 in Chicago
Released on Okeh 8482 and Vocalion 3381
OKeh matrix W80847. Willie the weeper / Louis Armstrong ; Hot Seven - Discography of American Historical Recordings
(c) "Doc" Cook and his 14 Doctors of Syncopation (1927)
Recorded June 11, 1927 in Chicago
Released on Columbia 1070-D
"Doc" Cook & His 14 Doctors Of Syncopation* - Willie The Weeper / Slue-Foot (1927, Shellac) | Discogs
Columbia matrix W144318. Willie the weeper / 14 Doctors of Syncopation ; Doc Cook - Discography of American Historical Recordings
(c) Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon (1927)
Recorded July 22, 1927 in Chicago
Released on Black Patti 8048
In 1931 Cab Calloway recorded "Minnie the Moocher", which bears a strong resemblance with "Willie the Weeper", both also opium songs
(c) Cab Calloway (1931) (as "Minnie the Moocher")
Recorded March 3, 1931 in New York
Released on Brunswick 6074
78 RPM - Cab Calloway - Minnie The Moocher (The Ho De Ho Song) / Doin' The Rumba - Brunswick - USA - 6074
Cab Calloway And His Orchestra - Minnie The Moocher (The Ho De Ho Song) / Doin' The Rumba (1931, Shellac) | Discogs
Brunswick matrix E36212. Minnie the moocher / Cab Calloway Orchestra - Discography of American Historical Recordings
In 1932 Cab Calloway also sang the song in the Betty Boop cartoon "Minnie the Moocher"
Watch it here:
Betty Boop was based on Bette Davis, a famous actress at the time, who was known for her striking, large eyes.
So in 1932 Bette Davis also sang "Minnie the Moocher" in the film The Cabin in the Cotton.
More versions of Minnie the Moocher here: MINNIE THE MOOCHER - Fleischer AllStars
(c) Harry Roy and his Orchestra (1937) (as "Willie the Weeper")
Recorded December 14, 1937 in London
Released on Parlophone F-1110 (UK)
Also released on Decca 2169 (USA)
WILLIE THE WEEPER : HARRY ROY And His Orchestra : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Listen here: WILLIE THE WEEPER - HARRY ROY And His Orchestra.mp3
More versions here: