He joined the Arkestra during the Chicago period, travelled with them to Canada and then to New York City. Boykins has been described as "the pivot around which much of Sun Ra's music revolved for 8 years".
This is especially pronounced on the key recordings from 1965 (The Magic City, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two) where the intertwining lines of Boykins' bass and Ra's electronic keyboards provide the cohesion. He was a regular member of Sun Ra's band from 1958 until 1966, and occasionally thereafter up to 1974.
Like his fellow Sun Ra bandmates, John Gilmore and Pat Patrick, Boykins attended Chicago's DuSable High School and studied under its famed music teacher "Captain" Walter Dyett. He also studied with Ernie Shepard, who would later work with Duke Ellington.
Before joining Ra, Boykins had joined with a trombonist friend to open a private club—The House of Culture—with the intent of promoting black culture.
Boykins' arco solo on Sun Ra's "Rocket No. 9 Take Off for Planet Venus" from 1960 may be the first recorded example of the bass being played in a horn-like manner within a relatively free context, predating similar work by Alan Silva and David Izenzon. Boykins worked with both free and straight-ahead musicians.
In 1962, he recorded with the hard bop tenor saxophonist Bill Barron and, the next year, with pianist Elmo Hope. Boykins worked with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp's New York Contemporary Five in 1964. Boykins left Ra in 1966, ostensibly to pursue more lucrative opportunities; Ra had a difficult time finding a replacement, at times settling for playing his own bass lines on keyboard.
In the late '60s, he formed his own group, the Free Jazz Society, which included the pianist John Hicks.
In the '70s, Boykins played with the Melodic Art-tet, a cooperative free jazz ensemble that also included drummer Roger Blank, saxophonist Charles Brackeen, and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah.
In 1975, the bassist led a session for ESP Disk that produced his sole LP as a leader, The Will Come, Is Now.
In 1979 he played with Steve Lacy and Dennis Charles on New York Capers and Quirks. In the course of his career, Boykins also worked with Mary Lou Williams, Marion Brown, Sarah Vaughan, and Hajj Daoud Haroon, among others.
He died of a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 44.1975: The Will Come, Is Now
For albums with Sun Ra see the Sun Ra discography1963: Elmo Hope - Sounds from Rikers Island (Audio Fidelity)
1964: George Benson - The New Boss Guitar
1964: Bill Barron, Ted Curson & Orchestra - Now, Hear This!
1964: Bill Dixon 7-tette/Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary 5
1965: Marion Brown Quartet (ESP-Disk)
1965: Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Rip, Rig and Panic - Jaki Byard on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and drummer Elvin Jones
1966: Eric Kloss - Grits & Gravy (Prestige)
1967: Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Now Please Don't You Cry, Beautiful Edith
1974: Sam Rivers - Crystals
1974: Voyage from Jericho (Akba) with Ronnie Boykins, Earl Cross, Steve Reid, Arthur Blythe
1976: Saga of the Outlaws (Nessa Records) with Earl Cross, Steve Reid, Ronnie Boykins, John Ore
1976: Mary Lou Williams A Grand Night for Swinging - Roy Haynes (drums); Ronnie Boykins (bass)
1978: Charles Tyler (musician) Live in Europe (AK) with Ronnie Boykins (bass); Steve Reid (drums, percussion); Melvin Smith (guitar)