HomeEntertainmentMusicJohnny Cash’s ‘One Piece at a Time’: Story Behind the Hilarious Song

Johnny Cash’s ‘One Piece at a Time’: Story Behind the Hilarious Song

by Anna Dunn
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When it came to songwriting, nobody could balance the serious and the novelty quite like Johnny Cash. Known to have a playful side to his songs, Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” “If I Told You Who It Was,” and “One Piece at a Time” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the singers more lighthearted and funny songs.

“One Piece at a Time,” in particular, tells a hilarious story. The song was released in 1976 on Cash’s studio album, “One Piece at a Time.” It was written by musician Wayne Kemp.

The single was Johnny Cash’s last song to hit the #1 spot on the billboard hot country chart. Even in Cash’s performances of “One Piece at a Time,” he often laughs along with the lyrics.

The Story Johnny Cash’s ‘One Piece at a Time’ Tells

The song follows the narrator who works at General Motors installing tires onto Cadillacs. The narrator recognizes that he’ll never be able to afford one of his own, so he and a co-worker decide to steal one by taking small parts from work in a comically large lunchbox.

He and his co-worker smuggle out the larger Cadillac parts in the coworkers’ motorhome. After 25 years, the two finally assemble the pieces. Even though the Cadillac is a messy hodgepodge of parts from various models, it works. The narrator’s hesitant wife decides to ride the car, and the townspeople laugh at it as he drives by. When he registers the car with the DMV, the paperwork weighs 60 pounds.

‘One Piece at a Time’ Copycats

Song promoters went to Bruce Fitzpatrick, owner of Abernathy Auto Parts and Hilltop Auto Salvage in Nashville, Tennessee, to see if he could build a “psychobilly” Cadillac like the one in the song using the same parts Cash mentioned. Fitzpatrick presented the result to Johnny Cash in 1976. The car was later destroyed following the press tour.

In 1977, a man named Bill Patch decided to create a “One Piece at a Time” Cadillac of his own to raise money for his LIONs Club civic center. He and some mechanic friends bought and found old Cadillac pieces around the area. When Patch presented the Cadillac to Cash, Cash loved it. Johnny Cash would later perform multiple times in Patch’s hometown of Welch, Oklahoma, and the two became friends.

Johnny Cash’s good humor and beloved voice have been sorely missed since he passed away in 2003. His expansive career earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll, Country music, and Gospel halls of fame. “One Piece at a Time” is one of the many songs Cash left behind that leaves joy and humor in his wake.